Government poised to crack down on illegal number plates

The Government is set to launch a crackdown on dodgy number plates after a surveillance expert warned that criminal gangs are exploiting a “lawless” market to clone vehicles and avoid police detection.

The Home Office has said that it is looking into the issue of fake plates being issued by shady overseas firms after surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter said innocent motorists were suffering due to the ungoverned “wild west” environment around number plates.

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Mr Porter, a former police chief, has submitted a report to the Home Office warning that there are up to 40,000 outlets selling number plates, many of which boast about not requiring proof of car ownership.

Companies issuing new registration plates in the UK are legally required to check ownership documents to confirm a customer has a right to use the registration mark. However, companies based overseas are exempt from this law and offer “show plates” without requiring any proof of ownership.

Cloned plates can be used to avoid traffic fines (Photo: Shutterstock)

Cloned number plates are often used by criminals to disguise a car’s true identity, either to hide the fact it is stolen or to avoid paying traffic fines generated by camera systems. Their actions can result in innocent motorists being chased for offences they didn’t commit or unwittingly buying a stolen vehicle.

There were 6,734 reports of cloned plates in 2018-19 but Mr Porter told the Telegraph that this was the “tip of the iceberg”. He warned that with the growing use of automatic number plate recognition cameras to enforce fines and low-emissions zone charges the use of cloning to hide a car’s true identity would only increase.

He said: “We have to look at what motivates people to clone a vehicle. It could be serious and organised crime. Penalty charges for low emission zones of £12.50 may prompt people to consider cloning or defacing their plates, which are the ‘fingerprints’ of the ANPR technology.

“We need a much stricter regime with tougher sanctions for deploying licences that are not fit for purpose, certification to demonstrate they are fit for purpose much like what happens across the rest of Europe.”

Currently drivers caught using a cloned plate only face a fine of £100 while firms selling them from outwith the UK can dodge the potential £5,000 fine issued to UK companies.

A Home Office spokesman told the Telegraph: “The cloning and defacing of number plates affects road safety and provides cover for criminals and we are working with the police to bear down on these crimes. We welcome this report and are carefully considering its recommendations.”