Drivers pay twice as much for licence in Northern Ireland than rest of UK Britain
Questions have been raised over why learner drivers in Northern Ireland are forking out almost twice as much for a provisional licence as their counterparts in the rest of the UK.
The news comes as new rules mean that from this week British driving licences will feature the Union flag as well as the current European Union banner - except in Northern Ireland.
In Britain a licence can be bought online for £34 or £43 by post. But they are only available by post in Northern Ireland - at a bumper cost of £62.50.
With some 25,000 new drivers applying for their first licence each year here, that equates to nearly £1.6 million in revenue.
New Driver NI has called on the Department of the Environment (DoE) to stop local drivers being penalised unfairly.
It also wants the charges in Northern Ireland to be brought in line with the rest of the UK. New Driver NI director Tony McKeown said it was time for a review of arrangements to ensure that drivers here are not being ripped off.
"Getting a driving licence is a liberating experience, a passport to the open road, and particularly for those in more rural areas," he said.
"It can also help our young people to find a job.
"Getting on the road can be a very expensive process and this isn't being made easy for our local new drivers who are being charged almost double the cost for a provisional licence than their peers elsewhere in the UK."
The difference in provisional licence fee widened at the end of last year when the online tariff in Britain was slashed from £50 after a public consultation.
Similarly, when it comes to renewing a full driving licence, it costs £14 online in Britain - but £30 here.
However, a DoE spokesman said the price differential is as low as £3 when the theory and practical tests are factored in. "While the current fee charged for the first provisional licence in Northern Ireland at £62.50 is more expensive than Great Britain, this is largely due to the lack of economies of scale in terms of licences issued, the considerable number of licences issued free of charge on medical grounds or to those aged 70 and over, and the availability of online access in Great Britain.
"However, when the fees for the theory test and practical test are factored in, the difference in cost for obtaining a full driving licence in Northern Ireland compared to Great Britain is either £3 (when a paper application is made in GB) or £12 (for an online GB application)," he said.
The spokesman said The Driver & Vehicle Agency is currently developing a new driver licensing IT system to be delivered by April 2016.
"This system which will improve the customer experience, deliver service efficiencies and introduce online processing and other enhancements to the service, will provide an opportunity to make savings and review the fees currently charged for the processing of driver licences," he added.
Meanwhile, drivers elsewhere in the UK will be able to sport the national flag on the photo-card element of their licence but not motorists here, as driver licensing is a devolved matter.
Ulster Unionist Sandra Overend MLA said she was disappointed that local drivers don't have the same rights as those in the other three regions of the United Kingdom.
"The sovereign flag of the UK has a right to have its place on our driving licences," she said.
"Northern Ireland is every bit a part of the UK as England, Scotland and Wales and I want this policy extended to drivers here."