Exclusive: Inside the Facebook groups where driving instructors are making serious cash 3 months ago

Exclusive: Inside the Facebook groups where driving instructors are making serious cash

Learner drivers can take the fast lane but it comes at a price

Driving instructors are playing the system and charging pupils hundreds of pounds for fast-track tests, while huge waiting lists make it near impossible for other learners to find a date.

Advertisement

At the end of last year, more than half a million wannabe drivers were left in limbo due to delays caused by the pandemic. Now, 10 months after lockdown rules ended in the UK, learners are reportedly still waiting around five months for a practical test date. What’s worse, is that the backlog is not expected to clear until 2024, according to a recent report by driving insurance company Marmalade

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) claims the current average waiting time for a driving test is 14 weeks. But earlier this week, Boris Johnson put the agency on notice over the delays.

Now, instructors are among those capitalising on the situation - using sites such as Facebook Marketplace to advertise early driving test slots for more than double the standard price.

Advertisement

An advertisement for driving tests on Facebook Marketplace

Driving tests should cost £62 on a weekday and £75 on a weekend if booked officially through the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

Posing as a learner driver while talking to instructors and others exploiting the system, JOE discovered pupils were being charged anything between £140 and £295 for earlier test slots. And this only covers the test alone - not even considering the additional fees learners have to pay for lessons, and to use their instructor's car on the day of their test.

Advertisement

When asked for help finding a test, some sellers came back with a long list of dates within minutes - boasting that they could book a test in just three days time.

A conversation with one of the sellers from Facebook Marketplace

One even offered a test in London the very next day - for £250.

Advertisement

While some instructors suggested they were finding the test slots through companies, others admitted they were using their own credentials to game the system.

Speaking to JOE, an instructor in Birmingham said: “We have our own instructor reference number so we get bookings like that…  only instructors can book it.

The instructor said he had “quite a lot” of tests going and should be able to get one “anytime, anywhere” for a minimum of £140.

One seller offered a test the next day
Advertisement

And it’s not just instructors who are getting involved.

In fact, one person we made contact with was a third party selling tests to instructors, as well as pupils. The seller was charging £250 per person on top of the standard DVSA driving test fee, totalling over £300 for a pupil to book in their test. The seller said he’d already sold two tests that day by the time we contacted him. 

One seller said he gets tests for both pupils and instructors

When expressing concern about the unregulated nature of this scheme, as anybody handing over this kind of money would, we were told that the test dates we were looking to buy were fully legit and would be recognised by the DVSA system. 

One instructor said: “I don’t need to scam you over petty money when this is my business all over Facebook WhatsApp Snapchat. Like I said, I take payment after so nothing to be worried about.”

After all, it isn’t illegal, as another seller was keen to point out.

The seller was keen to highlight that he wasn't breaking the law

Desperate to get a test as delays continue, many learners have taken the hit and forked out hundreds to get their licence.

Alice*, a 35-year-old mum-of-two from London, was charged £200 to take her test in April.

“I had just failed for the second time and really wanted to avoid waiting another five or six months. It’s so expensive to keep stopping and starting. I’ve spent a fortune on extra lessons because of all the covid delays.

“My instructor promised me they could get me another test date. I waited about two weeks and then got a message saying it was £200 just for the ‘test fees’, and I had to send the money quickly. I questioned it because it was at a different test centre, so I’d be driving different roads to those I’d practised for four years on and off. I only had a week's notice so it just wasn’t enough time to feel confident. I failed again, worse this time.”

Tobí has been waiting for a test for the best part of two years (@tobirachel)

Tobí Akingbadé, a Social Editor at JOE, who has been struggling to book a test since 2020, said: “I think the driving instructors doing this are extremely selfish. They know what they’re doing because they have access to people who learn. They know how desperate we are which is why they’re doing it in the first place. It’s exploitative and it’s extremely heartbreaking.”

In the time Tobí’s has been waiting for a practical test to appear in her area, her theory test also expired, meaning she now has to retake her theory in order to carry out her practical. What’s more, is that the 30-year-old recently moved out of London and to the countryside due to the cost of living crisis, meaning she now feels “stuck in her home” without being able to drive.

“They’ve turned this into a money-making scheme where driving is such a necessity to our livelihoods,” she said.

An ad for £249 driving tests on Facebook Marketplace

Of course, it’s not just driving instructors who are cashing in on this. According to Colin Mullis, a 38-year-old driving instructor in Cornwall, anyone can do it.

If you look at the government website, it is very simple to create an account which allows you to book and manage multiple tests - all you need is your Government Gateway user ID and password, a credit or debit card, and a pupil’s driving licence number. What’s more, is that there is no limit on how many tests you can book.

“There’s nothing to stop you doing that,” Colin said, “It’s a cash cow.”

The driving instructor said this system is monitored “to a certain extent” to make sure it is not abused, but added: “If people don’t report it, they don’t know if it’s being abused or not.”

Colin also explained how instructors are using the booking system in an “unscrupulous way” to make more money.

He said driving instructors can book multiple tests well in advance, and then swap them around - so they have test dates lined up for months, which they can then charge more money for nearer the time.

Colin said: “People now are so desperate, they’ll pay it. But it’s just wrong, isn’t it?”

When asked about earlier test slots being sold to learner drivers for above the standard price, a DVSA spokesperson said:  “We urge applicants not to use any third-party cancellation checking services and to always go through the official DVSA website. 

“We’ve already put in place measures to monitor and prevent bots from accessing our systems while also strengthening our firewall to tackle the issue.”

Asking retired examiners to return to the job, launching an examiner recruitment campaign, and bringing in out-of-hours driving tests are amongst the measures that DVSA said it has taken to increase testing availability for learner drivers.

The organisation encourages members of the public who believe there is misconduct relating to driving instructors to notify the organisation. The DVSA also said it will not hesitate in taking action if any abuse of the customer service booking system is identified.

*name has been changed 

Related stories:

This article was updated on May 3 2022