I just read on the BBC News website about the change in the road tax rules in the UK that has come-in today. It seems that now, if we fail to renew our road tax within 14 days of the previous tax disc expiring (even if we do not use our vehicle on the road during that period), we will be automatically fined £80. Nice.
I don’t object to paying the tax—and I have always paid on time, although I imagine that at some point in my life I may very well forget or be otherwise occupied and as a result miss the new 14-day deadline. No, what I really object to is the guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude that is taking hold in the bureaucracy at the centre of the British government. What they are saying is that if we fail to renew within 14 days, they will presume we are guilty of attempting to evade road tax and they will fine us. I suppose if we complain we will probably be told that we should be thankful that they deign to remind us that we need to pay it… after all, they don’t bother for the M.O.T., arguably a far more important event in the annual life of a motor vehicle since it is the M.O.T. that is the government’s mandatory test of roadworthiness.
Of course, the cynic in me says that they have statistics on the number of people who renew within various time periods after the reminder and have decided that £80 times the number they will catch with this new rule is about the amount of money that they would like to bring in. Actually, the realist in me says that too. This isn’t anything to do with catching tax evaders; it’s a cynical attempt to impose an additional tax on the people they know full-well will occasionally forget or be delayed in renewing their road tax.
The thing is that, assuming that they can fine people automatically, they could just tax them automatically instead. But that would deprive them of their additional revenue. And it would be far too convenient for road users as well as entirely fair.
Personally, I don’t believe that there is ever a place for automatic fines; they will always catch-out a number of people who never intended to do anything wrong… indeed, I suspect that in many such systems, these people are in the majority. They breed unnecessary resentment and simply cause stress for all involved. The powers that be often institute “appeals” mechanisms to right such wrongs, but they know full-well that the majority of people would be discouraged from appealing, whether because of a desire to forget about the whole unpleasant business as quickly as possible, because they do not see a hope that they will prevail, or simply because they don’t have the time.