How the Number Plate System Works in United Kingdom


Currently, the number plate system being observed in Great Britain has been around since September 2001 and there seems to be no plan that any changes would be considered in the current system post-Brexit. Although that optional EU badge on the side of current plates might be barred in due time, but we’re not certain yet. 

Wondering what the previous number plate systems before 2001 were? Well, we’ll just be discussing the current system for now. Let’s get right to it then.

The format and its specifications.

The format that the British number plates are arranged in consists of two letters, followed by two numbers and three letters.

1.The first two letters on these number plates refer to the ‘local memory tag’. In simpler words, the area code where a certain vehicle is registered. For example, if you’re buying a car from Yorkshire, it will most certainly be YA, YB, YC, uptil YY; except for YI, YQ or YZ and there’s a good reason for it. The letters I, Q and Z can easily be confused for other letters or numbers, so they aren’t used just in case. 

2. The two numbers that are third and fourth digits of a British number plate are commonly known as the ‘age identifier’. They refer to the six month period a vehicle was registered in. The first tenure being March till August and the second, September till February. This could get a bit confusing but when you look closely, it actually makes sense. 

So if a vehicle is registered in 2015 between the months of March and August, the two digits will be 15. For those registered between September and February, the number ‘50’ will be added to 15, so the digits will be 65. 

3. That brings us down to the last three digits of the number plate. These three letters are randomly allocated by the dealership when the car is registered, but the letters I and Q are not used. So there are no complications here. It is also possible to personalize these digits, but the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) denies any combinations that may seem offensive.

The given format of the number plate system in UK has also been covered by Telegraph in 2002.

So now that we’ve discussed the format thoroughly, let’s see what else we need to know about the number plate system.

Number Plate of choice.

According to a representative from CarReg, a UK based number plates company, “For those of you who’d consider having a unique and exclusive number plate, all you need to know is that it’s possible to have an ‘old’ number plate for a new car”. The DVLA sells previous number plates that, according to them, have a high commercial value. This proves to be useful for someone who wants to make words out of numbers or for those who want to conceal their car’s actual age. 

Also, you can even transfer the number plate of your previous car to your new one. But the process is quite crucial and exhausting to be honest. 

The government allows you to keep the same number plate but the process involves paying a large sum of money to the DVLA, filing an unreasonably large amount of paperwork and waiting for a long time for them to process your request. 

We’re not sure why Britain has such an inanely complicated number plate system but that’s how it is and we’re not sure if it will be changing any time soon.