DVLA digital car tax renewal website struggles with demand on launch

The DVLA’s renewed vehicle tax website has had a troubled launch, with the site crashing due to high demand

The overhauled Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) vehicle tax website has had a troubled launch, with the site crashing and responding slowly due to high demand.

From today (1 October), vehicle owners in the UK no longer need paper tax discs, as the service has become “digital by default” as part of the government’s digital strategy. Car tax compliance will now be checked using the vehicle number plate – often using automated recognition through the network of police surveillance cameras on roads – and reference to DVLA databases.

But soon after launch, the reviewed website started to struggle. The DVLA first acknowledged problems this morning, when it tweeted: “We are currently experiencing high volumes of traffic to our online vehicle tax service please keep trying. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

Further tweets followed, the most recent saying: “We’re still experiencing exceptionally high volumes on our online car tax service – please try later.”

DVLA had previously tweeted that it was seeing unexpected high traffic: “Unprecedented demand tonight. We built to scale but 6000 a minute is causing slow response. Around 250K have taxed tonight so keep trying,” it said.

The service has been launched as a beta version – meaning it is still being tested and developed – but the previous version is still available. When Computer Weekly checked the website at 11.50am, it appeared to be working, but response times were slow.

The DVLA has been held up as one of the leading government agencies in the move to more digital public services. But its chief executive Oliver Morley acknowledged in a recent interview with Computer Weekly that the organisation is unlikely to ever go completely digital

He said the DVLA is looking to become “digital by preference” because it still receives the majority of its inbound traffic as paper.

“We will be a multichannel business,” he said. “It’s difficult to say we’re going to cut that channel – in the end, the most important issue for us is they’re paying tax. If there’s a segment that really doesn’t like using digital means, or technically can’t, we need to make sure we can still collect the tax.”

The DVLA website is not the first overhauled service to experience problems coping with high demand on its launch. For example, the ticketing websites for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and for the London 2012 Olympics both crashed, demonstrating the difficulties and failures in planning for very high traffic to popular digital services.

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