How thousands of motorcyclists could be unwittingly uninsured

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Thousands of motorcyclists could be unwittingly riding without insurance because of confusion over what constitutes a full licence.

Many riders tell their insurance company they have had a full licence since the date they passed their standard motorcycle test.

But the insurance ombudsman has concluded they are wrong, and a full licence is only obtained when the 33bhp power restriction elapses, usually two years after passing the standard test.

It means motorcyclists are unwittingly misinforming their insurers about how long they have held a full licence and being undercharged as a result. It renders policies invalid and could be grounds for claims to be rejected.

Alasdair Osborn had his policy cancelled on his Honda CD200 Benley by eBike after telling the broker he’d held a full licence since passing his standard bike test.

The broker argued he had not acquired a full licence until two years later, when the 33bhp restriction was removed. The firm demanded an extra £35 extra which Osborn refused to pay.

The Financial Ombudsman rejected Osborn’s complaint, telling him: ‘You discussed the problem with the DVLA and various emails confirm you passed your test on 29 April 2000 but – significantly – were restricted from riding larger bikes until 29 April 2002, because you were under 21 when you passed the test. As a result, you did not have a full licence until 29 April 2002.’

According to some insurers including Carole Nash and MCE, riders who say they have held a full licence since they passed the standard test are correct. But others agree with the ombudsman. 

EBike said: ‘As the DVLA-issued photocard licence for Mr Osborn indicated he had a full motorcycle licence which had commenced in 2002, this conflicted with the information he had supplied.’

Osborn, 30, a lab assistant from Peterborough, said: “It’s a complete farce. I was always under the impression that if you passed a test, the day you passed was the day you qualified.”

The confusion appears to have arisen from the codes used by DVLA to refer to the various kinds of motorcycle licences.

The agency refers to a full unrestricted motorcycle licence as ‘category A’.

On passing the standard test, riders immediately have this code added to their photocard licence in the list of vehicles they have full entitlement to use. A clarification that they are restricted to 33bhp appears in a separate column on the licence.

But later, DVLA changes the photocard licence to say the rider has only had category ‘A’ entitlement since the 33bhp restriction expired, up to two years after the category was originally added. The period in which the rider was restricted to 33bhp is now referred to only on the paper counterpart. But here the type of vehicle they were entitled to ride during that period has been changed to category ‘A2’.

A DVLA spokeswoman said: “DVLA issues licences in as clear a format as possible.

“There are no imminent plans to change the entitlement history section on the counterpart at this stage.”

Do you tell your insurer you’ve had a full licence since passing the standard test or since the subsequent 33bhp restriction elapsed? Help establish the extent of the problem by filling in our survey.


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Steve Farrell

By Steve Farrell