A majority of car owners in the UK flaunt their personalized number plates. They have their reasons for doing so. A private number plate gives personality to a vehicle. A number plate that displays the name initials of the owner, their date of birth, their name, a place of interest or a hobby, fosters a relationship between the vehicle owner and their vehicle.

Ignorance is Disappointing

Many car owners cherish the bond with their vehicle. It’s not surprising then that an increasing number of car owners register their interest at DVLA auctions every year. Whilst their passion for a cherished number plate is of interest to me, their ignorance of the regulations is also disappointing to me. I find it increasingly disappointing that many of them are not aware of DVLA’s policy regarding the display of number plates on a UK road-going vehicle.

DVLA rules

You are not at complete liberty when it comes to choosing a number plate. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) formulated certain rules, for personalised vehicle registration number display which you need to follow at all times. In this article, I’ll discuss them in some detail.

An Overview

DVLA requires the plate to include the unique vehicle registration number. You are not permitted to change the number-letter combination when displaying it on your vehicle. If you rearrange the letters or numbers in the way that they are displayed, they are likely to be more difficult to decipher. As an example, it is likely that the ANPR system used by the Police to identify stolen vehicles will find it more difficult to recognize the vehicle. The Display of Registration Mark Regulations makes it illegal to misplace letters and numbers out with the defined legal requirements. Misplacing the letters and numbers, or using a customized font, or a non-approved badge on your number plates may result in a penalty of up to £1000 whilst your vehicle will also be failed at its MOT test.

To stay informed and to stay legal, take a look at the information on the recent incidents of number plate offenses and punishments and consider these as a wake-up call if you are knowingly breaching the rules.

Number-letter format

It was 2011 when DVLA introduced the existing ‘new-style’ or ‘current ‘registration format; this format includes two prefix letters in the registration number that is indicative of the issuing office and is known as regional identifiers, two numbers indicating the year and month of issue, and then three randomly-picked letters. As an example of regional identifiers, the DVLA’s Birmingham Office would issue a plate, with its regional identifiers as either: BA, BM, BD, or BH.

The rules

The following are some of the rules, specified by DVLA.

  • The number plate must have build materials that comply with BS145au
  • The front number plate must have black characters inscribed on a white background.
  • The rear number plate must have black characters engraved on a yellow background.
  • There shouldn’t be any background pattern.
  • The Font must be a Charles Wright font
  • National Badges must be compliant with DVLA approved designs

Many of the rules are specific to a car. If you ride a motorbike and if its registration date is on or after September 1, 2001, the number plate should be displayed only at the rear.

Never use a towing trailer without putting a number plate on it. Many people fail to display the car’s vehicle registration number on the trailer which shows how ignorant they are of the regulations. DVLA instructs a trailer to display the same number plate that the car it is towing. The number plate must be at the rear of the trailer and it must comply with the same rules as the vehicle.

Customized number plates

To buy a legally compliant number plate you need to purchase from a registered number plate supplier. The supplier can supply you with a legally compliant number plate but will need documents from you that will establish:

  • The name and address of the owner
  • The owner has entitlement to the registration number

To confirm your name and address, you need identity documents. Unless you produce those documents, you won’t be able to prove you are eligible to put a customized number plate on your car.

Qualifying documents

You can use any of the following documents:

  • Driving license
  • Last six months utility bill or tax bill
  • Last six months bank statement
  • ID card that’s valid nationwide

Below are some of the credentials that can confirm only your name, not your address:

  • Credit card
  • Armed forces ID card (If you are in the army)
  • Passport, issued anywhere

In order to establish that you have entitlement to the registration number already assigned to your vehicle, you will need to provide the vehicle registration certificate or V5C. If you have recently purchased entitlement to a personalized registration number you will need to provide, either of these:

  • Certificate of entitlement (V750)
  • Retention document (V778)
  • A certificate of number plate authorisation (V948) with DVLA’s official stamp

Use of Badges

The DVLA has stipulated acceptable badges for displaying on vehicle number plates. The approved flags are National Flags with the St Georges Cross, the Red Dragon of Wales, the Cross of St Andrews, the European Union Flag among those flags approved for use. The National identifiers that sit below the National Flags are GB (Great Britain), UK (United Kingdom), ENG (England), SCO (Scotland)………

If you are looking to have both flag and identifier, legal requirements are that the flag must sit above the identifier. Two other important aspects are that the letters and the flag must not extend into the margin area for the number plates and they must stay inside the 50mm designated width to the left side of the number plates.

It’s not optional

Adhering to DVLA rules is not optional and not following the regulations may result in legal consequences and fines. Always ensure you follow DVLA rules & regulations for the Display of Registration Marks and only buy number plates from a Registered Supplier of Number Plates.


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