After reading our recent Car Care column regarding vehicle registration and licensing, a follow-up question has been sent in from a reader wanting clarification and advice concerning their current dispute with the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) on this exact matter.
Our previous column covered the differences between the two legal requirements of registration and licensing, plus the obligation to either keep a vehicle's licence up to date (continuous licensing) or the entitlement of the registered person (see note) to place the licence on hold if a vehicle is to be taken off the road for longer than three months.
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(Examples: being held in storage, undergoing restoration or the owner is saving for required repairs).
If a vehicle is listed on the NZTA's continuous licensing database records but remains unlicensed for a 12-month period from the date of expiry, then the registration is automatically cancelled by the NZTA.
Our reader owns a vehicle that has sat unlicensed for more than 12 months (the licence was not placed on hold) and therefore the NZTA has automatically taken the steps to deregister it.
Up to this point our reader has no issues. The vehicle has little value and he has decided to send it off to the scrapyard.
What has got his blood boiling, however, is that the NZTA is chasing him for the 12 months unpaid licensing fees prior to the cancellation of the registration.
This process can include seeking reimbursement via a debt collection agency if the fees are not paid within a predetermined time period.
The reader wanted to know if this is a fair and legal process?
I'm no lawyer and my answers are based on what I have read on the NZTA website and from subsequent phone calls made to, and emails received from, its PR team.
The process is pretty straightforward - the registered person is the one responsible for keeping their vehicle licensed or taking the necessary steps if a vehicle is going to be taken off the road for an indefinite time.
Therefore, regarding this specific case, if the NZTA is not notified about the vehicle's licence being placed on hold, they have to assume the vehicle is still being driven on public roads and therefore the registered person is liable for any outstanding licensing fees.
To quote direct from the NZTA website: "As the registered person, you're responsible for your vehicle and for meeting the requirements that allow you to drive legally on the road. This includes keeping it in safe condition, and paying the licensing fees and any traffic or parking infringements."
The other responsibility, as pointed out in our previous article on this subject, is for owners to ensure the NZTA is notified of any change of address, for the sending of re-licensing reminder notices and/or traffic/parking infringements.
Reminder notices are sent to the last known address of the registered person, including a final reminder four weeks before cancelling the registration. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but the law is the law.
As a reminder to our loyal readers, we suggest you go and check your vehicle's licence label, especially if you have changed address recently and rely on a reminder arriving in the post.
When I was in the retail side of the business, it was surprising how many disgruntled owners blamed service departments for not reminding them about overdue warrants and licensing fees. Trying to tell the authorities it is someone else's fault never has and never will get owners very far.
So to answer the question from our reader: is it bullying and an illegal money grab by the authorities? I'm afraid I would have to say no.
The other important point to note is the danger of not officially deregistering a vehicle and handing in the registration plates if it is to be sold for scrap or spare parts. You may find yourself getting infringement notices or a "please explain" letter from authorities for a car fitted with number plates that are still registered against your name.
Unused personalised plates you own should be kept in a safe place, but standard number plates should always be handed back into an NZTA agent for disposal.
• Note: The term "Registered Owner" was replaced in 2011 with "Registered Person". This was done to remove the misconception that the Transport Agency dealt with legal ownership.
Do you have any registration horror stories or helpful tips for other owners? Let us know below or at facebook.com/DrivenNZ