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9 Apr 2020

Coronavirus and car tax; must you tax your car while the UK is in lockdown?

The usual rules on car tax apply if you're driving during lockdown, but if you don't drive at all for a while, there could be ways to save money
A car with a tax penalty notice

As we approach the end of our third week in lockdown and continue to avoid unnecessary travel, many drivers will be wondering if you still need to pay tax on a car you're not using.

Not paying car tax could free up extra cash for lots of people at a time when finances might be tight. But not following the rules properly could result in a fine.

We explain when you do and don't need to pay car tax and what to do about tax if your MOT has been delayed.

Find out everything you need to know, including the latest rates and how car tax has changed from April 2020, in our guide to car tax.

Do I need to pay car taxduring the coronavirus lockdown?

While the rules on car MOTs have been flexed as a result of the coronavirus restrictions, automatically extending MOT expiry dates by up to six months, the rules on car tax haven't changed. If you are still driving your car you must tax it as normal. If you're caught without having paid car tax, you can be fined up to £1,000.

However, it has always been possible to avoid paying car tax by stopping driving at all, and officially informing the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) that you're taking your vehicle off public roads. This is known as Statutory Off Road Notification, or SORN.

Bear in mind that you can only SORN your car if you are able to keep it on private land, such as in a garage or on your driveway. Cars parked on public roads must still be taxed.

What if my MOT is due at the same time as my car tax?

You cannot tax your car unless it has a valid MOT certificate.

However, to keep garages free for essential repairs during the coronavirus outbreak, car owners whose MOTs had been due on or after 30 March 2020 will get an automatic six-month extension from the original due date. This currently applies to all cars until the end of March 2021.

According to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), your MOT expiry date will be automatically updated about seven days before it's due. If your car tax and MOT are due on the same day, you will need the MOT expiry date to be automatically updated before you are able to renew your car tax.

You can check your car's MOT date on the government website. If the expiry date has not been extended three days before it was originally due to expire, email covid19mot@dvsa.gov.uk.

Should you SORN during the lockdown?

Until recently, declaring a car off the road will have appealed to relatively few car owners; usually if you have a car, it's because you intend to drive it.

However, the recent lockdown, which restricts driving only to essential journeys, may mean many more of our cars are sitting idle for weeks or months at a time. This may tempt more people to take advantage of the SORN option.

This will not only allow you to avoid renewing your car tax until you're back driving, but you'll also be able get a refund on any remaining full months you've already paid for.

Once you've officially declared your car off the road, you're not legally obliged to carry on insuring it. Bear in mind though that, if you don't have car insurance, you will not be covered for theft or damage to your car.

It's also the case that nobody knows how long the lockdown will last, so it's impossible to predict how many months worth of tax you may save before you're able to start driving again.

Electric cars fully tax free

Zero-emission cars have been zero-rated for car tax. And, as of April 2020, they are also exempt from the 'expensive car' tax supplement, which requires vehicles costing more than £40,000 to pay an additional car tax of £325 per year for five years from registration.

This means if you own a pure electric vehicle you don't need to pay any road tax at all, regardless of whether or not you drive it.

If the tax breaks, as well as the green credentials, tempt you, take a look at the best electric cars for 2020.

electric car charging at the side of the road

How to SORN a car

You can SORN your car online or by phone, on 0300 123 4321. To do it online the car will need to be registered in your name and correct address, and you'll need the 11-digit reference number from its V5C (logbook). You can also use the 16-digit reference code from a road-tax renewal reminder.

You can choose to SORN your car immediately or on the first day of the next month.

You can also tell the DVLA your car is off the road by sending an application form (V890) by post.

If the car is not registered in your name, you can only apply by post. You'll also need to fill in the appropriate part of the log book and send with the application. If you haven't got a log book you'll need to request one using a V62 application.

You do not have to renew the SORN, it will stay in place until you decide to use your car again, at which point you will need to also get it taxed.

Read the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?