Why number plate cloning is only going to get worse

As many as one in 15 motorists could be doctoring their number plates, according to a police report
As many as one in 15 motorists could be doctoring their number plates, according to a police report - Stephen Barnes/Alamy

Number plate cloning is a growing problem, with a recent police report suggesting that as many as one in 15 motorists could be doctoring their number plate.

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) figures show that, in 2018, there were 4,021 complaints from UK drivers who had received fines, penalties or letters for misdemeanours that involved other vehicles displaying their registration number.

From January 2021 to September 2022, the DVLA received reports of 12,300 cases. That’s an average of around 7,000 cases annually. Meanwhile, Transport for London witnessed a 631 per cent increase in fines being overturned because of number plate cloning. With some drivers unable to prove their innocence, that increase is likely to be greater.

An unpublished report for the Home Office, seen earlier this year by The Telegraph, also warned that the current system of regulation was too weak to prevent criminals and dishonest motorists from copying number plates.

Unsurprisingly, the RAC has described plate cloning as “the enemy of the modern motorist”.

What is number plate cloning?

This is when someone puts a number plate from a vehicle that doesn’t belong to them on another vehicle. That registration plate may have been duplicated or the cloners might have stolen the physical number plate from the car it was originally on.

It’s done so that they can carry out crimes without paying the price. If the car is caught breaking the law – by a speed-camera, red light, or bus lane-camera, in a congestion charge or low emission zone without paying, driving off without paying for fuel or any other criminal activity - they know the punishment will be someone else’s problem.

Why is it likely to get worse?

ANPR technology is fundamental to roads’ policing. The police say there are about 60 million ANPR “reads” gathered every day in the UK. In 2018, the number was just 28 million.

But, as all-encompassing as ANPR technology is, it is only effective if people display the right registration plate. And that’s partly fuelling the growth in number plate cloning.

Jon Kirkbright, from number plate sales company Platehunter, puts his company’s 300 per cent year-on-year sales increase in replacement plates down to cloning. He said: “People are struggling. If they can get around paying for something like fuel, simply by swapping number plates, they will.”

ANPR cameras “read” about 60 million plates a day on UK roads, according to police figures
ANPR cameras “read” about 60 million plates a day on UK roads, according to police figures - Jaroslaw Kilian/iStock

Then there’s London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez). With the area now expanded to cover all Greater London including Heathrow Airport, there are many more drivers with non-Ulez- compliant vehicles – below Euro 4 for petrol and below Euro 6 for diesel – who will have to pay a £12.50 daily charge to drive.

Simon Williams of motoring organisation The RAC told the Telegraph: “With the ULEZ zone expansion, there is an incentive for criminals to clone rather than pay.”

What happens if your number plate is cloned?

The first you’re likely to know about this is when you receive a fine or notice of intended prosecution through the post.

First, contact whoever issued the ticket and explain the situation. Next, call the police. They will put a marker against that registration number on the police national computer.

This will flag the car when ANPR cameras see it and officers should stop it. Of course, there’s a risk they may stop you so make sure you have proof of ID on you. The police should also issue you with a crime number.

Then, contact the DVLA, which will put a note against the car to show that it may have been cloned and issue a new registration number for free,  but you will have to pay to have the plates made up.

Of course, telling a local authority what’s happened is one thing; being believed is something else altogether.

What really happens?

Many cloning targets struggle to convince authorities they’re crime victims.

Keith Williams, from Anglesey in North Wales, had his plate cloned and received a parking ticket from London when he’d never driven the car there. He explained: “I ended up having to engage a solicitor to remove the penalty charge notice as there was no way the local authority would accept what I was telling them.”

Michael Stokes, from Hackney in London, had the plates on his Vauxhall Insignia cloned. He said: “It was a complete nightmare. I must have had about 10 parking and bus lane tickets over a three-month period. I would ring up whoever issued the tickets and you get stuck in automated phone hell. Then, when you do talk to a human, they don’t want to know and don’t believe you. The DVLA wasn’t interested either.

Eventually a police officer told me to change my number plates. It only took 10 minutes to swap them over and the new number plate cost £35, I think. Ironically the biggest cost was the £80 transfer fee to the DVLA.”