Picture this: One morning, you’re happily going about your day, getting ready for work. You give your dog (or cat) a goodbye cuddle before you head off to work in your beloved car. Locking your door behind you, you go over to where you’ve parked your car…only to find a massive, bright yellow clamp on the front wheel of your car and a notice on your window.
If any of that seems familiar, then your car has more likely than not been clamped by the DVLA. But don’t worry! We have you sorted.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you through the main reasons why cars get clamped in the UK, who is authorised to run clamping operations, and what you should do if you find yourself in this awkward yet highly frustrating situation, plus, why it’s so important to make sure that your address is up to date with government services.
There are definitely more cars on the road then there are Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) agents, so authorities have come up with a couple of ways to completely remove the need for them to chase car owners for breaking the rules. Clamping the vehicle to render it immobile is one such strategy; the owner of the vehicle will then have no choice but to come to them. The other? To remove it completely by towing it away.
Although it’s absolutely nerve-wrecking and stress-inducing when you find out that your beloved car has been clamped, especially because we usually tend to find out the hard way, there are actually a handful of solid reasons as to why this unfortunate event has happened to you. But don’t worry, none of those reasons are “The world is against you”.
However, if your car was clamped… It is almost definitely going to be your fault. Sorry!
You’ll be able to find out the exact reason why your car has been clamped by the INF32 leaflet that was left on your car — along with a reference number that you will need to quote.
Thankfully, it isn’t the end of the world. Regardless of the reason why your car has been clamped, there is a solution. But before we get into that, let’s talk about some of the reasons why your car probably got clamped in the first place.
In the UK, all vehicles — big and small — are legally required to be insured by law. Despite this, there are still a surprising number of car owners who don’t keep an eye on their insurance policies! This then leads to the unfortunate situation of their car insurance becoming invalid.
The DVLA has a database of vehicle registration information — and this includes up-to-date data on whether a car is insured. What you might not know is that the DVLA shares this information with the UK police. This allows relevant police bodies to more easily spot any uninsured vehicle and take appropriate action.
More often than not, “appropriate action” means clamping your poor car.
Car owners have had to pay tax on their vehicles as far back as 1888, when the first vehicle tax was put into law. The vehicle excise duty (VED) is estimated to raise around £7.2 billion for the Exchequer, so it’s no wonder that the relevant authorities take it so seriously. Within the DVLA systems, they are also able to recognise any car on the street that is untaxed and, as we’ve said earlier, the Agency shares this information with law enforcement authorities.
The DVLA (or any other relevant body) have the legal authority to clamp any car that has been found untaxed. However, depending on the amount owed, your car will also be at risk of being towed — which is a completely different ballgame.
You can check whether your road tax payments are up to date with this handy tool provided by the Gov.UK website.
Another reason why your car might be clamped is that it’s blocking an entrance to private property. Even if you’re parked on a public road, if your car is causing an obstruction to others, it will get clamped. Although, to be honest, any car that is blocking the way of others is more likely to be towed to restore order to the obstructed — even if the car is broken down.
The UK government, and by extension, the DVLA, takes road safety very seriously. As such, they will render any vehicle that they deem to be a road hazard immobile by clamping it. Although this occurs in very rare instances, it still gives the DVLA grounds to clamp a car. A car is considered a road hazard usually when it’s overloaded (its weight is more than the gross weight vehicle rating) or after it fails the annual MOT and the appropriate changes are not made and, therefore, is “unroadworthy”.
There are several reasons why a car can be considered unroadworthy — even after passing its annual MOT:
The handbook for your car will tell you how often to check the engine oil, water level in the radiator or expansion tank, brake fluid level, battery, windshield and rear window washer bottles (fill with windshield washer fluid if needed), tyres (they must have the right tread depth and be free of cuts and defects), and tyre pressure. It will also tell you how often your car needs to be serviced.
5. There are overdue fines
Parking tickets, speeding fines, reckless driving — these are all fineable offences that need to be paid as soon as possible. If you want to be able to drive your car, you shouldn’t ignore any overdue fines on it nor kick the can down the road. Unless you want to wake up one day to find your car clamped, of course!
When you break the rules of the road while driving, you will get a “penalty charge notice,” or PCN. Unfortunately, you can’t check online to see if you have a PCN that needs to be paid. If you have to pay a PCN, the relevant authority that gave it to you will send you a notice through the post. If the PCN is for a parking ticket from your city council, it will be left on the windshield of your car.
According to UK law, there are only a handful of parties who are legally allowed to clamp a car. Perhaps a relief to many, private persons are not a part of that list of parties, and anyone who illegally clamps a car, regardless of their reasoning, will be fined. However, anyone is allowed to report a car to the relevant authorities if it has been found to be obstructing their property in order to get it legally clamped by the right people.
So, who is allowed to clamp your car?
Hopefully, you now understand the reasons why your car has been clamped and who are authorised to run clamping operations. Now, to the main reason why you’re reading this article — how to get your car unclamped.
However, before we get into it, we do have to warn you that although the process of unclamping your car is relatively straightforward, it will definitely take quite a bit of patience, willpower, and saying goodbye to some of your hard-earned money.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the four main steps to getting your car unclamped (plus one bonus step from us):
We mean this in the most genuine way possible: if you’ve discovered that your car has been clamped, do. not. panic. The last thing the authorities need is yet another disgruntled person on the phone, yelling at them because they’re stressed and panicked. Not only will bringing yourself to a calm help the right people in assisting you with getting it unclamped, but it will also be a lot better for your own mental well-being.
So, before you angrily whip out your phone to call the number on the INF32 leaflet left on your car, take a deep breath. Inhale with your nose for four counts, hold your breath for seven counts, then exhale for eight counts. Repeat this process three more times or until you’ve found your calm. Once you’re ready, move on to Step #2:
When your car gets clamped, whoever that had the unfortunate job of placing the clamp would have also put an INF32 leaflet on your car — usually on the driver’s side window or the windshield. That leaflet would most definitely be placed next to a big, bright yellow notice that tells you the main reason why your car got clamped, while the leaflet itself will contain information about who you need to contact about the issue.
More likely than not, you will need to call your local council or the local police. But be sure to follow the instructions left on the INF32 leaflet, and make note of the reference number attached because you will need to quote it to the operator on the line to resolve your case.
3. Settle any unpaid fines or taxes
When you call the number at the back of the INF32 leaflet and quote the reference number, the operator will be able to tell you what it is that you need to pay in order to get your car unclamped. If your car was clamped because your insurance became invalid, you will need to pay for your insurance. Clamping due to unpaid driving offence fines mean that the outstanding fines need to be paid. But, if your car is clamped because you haven’t paid the road tax, then you will either need to pay for the tax or pay a refundable deposit before moving on to the next step.
Getting your car unclamped is an expensive endeavour. Another thing that you’ll need to pay before getting the big, bright yellow clamp off of your car is what the DVLA calls the “release charge”. You can pay this charge either online or over the phone, before the DVLA sends an agent to unclamp your car as soon as possible.
Clamping is an event that is very easy to avoid, yet the DVLA clamps around 100,000 cars a year — mostly from unpaid taxes. One thing that we recommend doing in order to avoid this whole situation (aside from making sure all relevant debts are paid) is to make sure that you keep all your addresses up to date across all government services, including with the DVLA, and especially if you’ve recently moved homes.
The DVLA requests that any fines and fees due should be paid within 24 hours of receiving the clamping notice. They will usually unclamp your car within 24 hours of the debts being paid.
The total cost depends on how much debt is owed in the first place — whether it’s overdue taxes, insurance costs or outstanding fines, insurance costs or overdue fines — so we won’t be able to tell you for certain how much you will have to pay overall. However, what we do know is the so-called “release fee” charge, which will be about £100, that you need to pay in order to get the relevant authority to come and unclamp your car. According to Gov.UK, if you’re unable to pay the overdue tax but still want the clamp released, you can pay a refundable “surety” of £160 for cars and motorcycles.
We highly recommend paying the outstanding fee within that 24-hour period or risk things escalating and your car getting impounded!
Remember: there are only five bodies in the UK that are legally allowed to place a clamp on your car — the police, the DVLA, the DVSA, the local council or certain (legal) fine enforcement officers. Neither private persons nor private operators are allowed to do so, although exceptions are given to private operators of airports, railway stations and shipping ports.
It is illegal to use a clamp on a vehicle in a private parking lot. Since 2012, that method of clamping has been banned, and you should ask for it to be released immediately. The one potential drawback is that you might still have to pay a fine — especially in the case that your vehicle was impounded because it was parked illegally or posed a safety hazard by the local council.
However, if your car has been clamped by a disgruntled neighbour, for example, don’t try to force the clamp off of the car. Take plenty of photos of the situation — where your car is parked etc. — the clamp itself, and bring along those photos plus your vehicle registration and insurance to the local police station to settle the matter. Since it’s illegal to do so, your neighbour will be facing some hefty fines for trying to take matters into their own hands.