Vehicle registration plates of the United Kingdom

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Layout of a GB number plate

Vehicle registration plates (commonly referred to as 'Number Plates') are the mandatory alphanumeric plates used to display the registration mark of a vehicle, and have existed in the United Kingdom since 1904. It is compulsory for motor vehicles used on public roads to display vehicle registration plates, with the exception of vehicles of the reigning monarch used on official business.[1]

The Motor Car Act 1903, which came into force on 1 January 1904, required all motor vehicles to be entered on an official vehicle register, and to carry alphanumeric plates. The Act was passed in order that vehicles could be easily traced in the event of an accident, contravention of the law or any other incident. Vehicle registration alphanumeric plates in the UK are rectangular or square in shape, with the exact permitted dimensions of the plate and its lettering set down in law. Front plates are white, whereas back plates are yellow.

Within the UK itself there are two systems: one for Great Britain, which dates from 2001, and another for Northern Ireland, which is similar to the original 1904 system. Both systems are administered by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in Swansea; until July 2014, Northern Ireland's system was administered by the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Coleraine, which had the same status as the DVLA. Other schemes relating to the UK are also listed below. The international vehicle registration code for the United Kingdom is GB (Great Britain and Northern Ireland).

Standard requirements[edit]

Black number plates with white or silver characters are permitted on vehicles constructed over 40 years ago, if registered under the Historic Vehicle taxation class. This vehicle was registered in Truro.
The front plate of a vehicle registered in County Down. The EU band on this plate says GB, the official code for all of the UK including Northern Ireland.

Number plates must be displayed in accordance with the Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001.

All vehicles manufactured after 1 January 1979 must display number plates of reflex-reflecting material, white at the front and yellow at the rear, with black characters. The 40-year exemption date rolls forward automatically each year on 1 April.[2] This type of reflecting plate was permitted as an option from 1968: many vehicles first registered before 1979 may therefore carry the white/yellow reflective plates and, where they were first registered during or after 1968, they may have carried such plates since new. Many buses delivered to London Transport between 1973 and the mid-1980s continued to bear white-on-black plates.[3]

In addition, characters on number plates purchased from 1 September 2001 must use a mandatory typeface and conform to set specifications as to width, height, stroke, spacing and margins. The physical characteristics of the number plates are set out in British Standard BS AU 145d, which specifies visibility, strength, and reflectivity.[4]

Number plates with smaller characters meeting standards for motorcycles are only permitted on imported vehicles, and then only if they do not have European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval and their construction/design cannot accommodate standard size number plates, for example vehicles made for the US or Japanese market may only have a 305mm x 152mm (12" x 6") area to affix a number plate in which a standard one line plate is too long (460mm) to fit whilst a two line plates is too tall (199mm). [4]

The industry standard size front number plate is 520 mm × 111 mm (20½" × 4⅜"). Rear plates are either the same size, or 285 mm × 203 mm (approx 11"x8") or 533 mm × 152 mm (approx 21"x6"). There is no specified legal size other than an absolute minimum margin of 11mm producing a minimum height of 101mm (one line) and 199mm (2 line) on cars, and 86mm for one line import vehicles and 164mm for a two line motorcycle or import vehicles, with the overall length being based on the registration number itself, with the smallest number plate possible being 1 having a minimum size of 36mm × 101mm on a car, or 32mm × 86mm on a motorcycle or import vehicle; whereas a 7 character registration number without a 1 or I having a minimum size of 460mm × 101mm (one line), or 255mm × 199mm (two line) on a car, or 231mm × 164mm on an import or motorbike.

The material of UK number plates must either comply with British Standard BS AU 145d,[5] which states BSI number plates must be marked on the plate with the BSI logo and the name and postcode of the manufacturer and the supplier of the plates or

"(b) any other relevant standard or specification recognised for use in an EEA State and which, when in use, offers a performance equivalent to that offered by a plate complying with the British Standard specification, and which, in either case, is marked with the number (or such other information as is necessary to permit identification) of that standard or specification."[6]

Older British plates had white, grey or silver characters on a black background. This style of plate was phased out in 1972 and, until 2012, legal to be carried only on vehicles first registered before 1 January 1973. A vehicle which was first registered on or after 1 January 1973 shall be treated as if it was first registered before that date if it was constructed before 1 January 1973.[7] However, the Finance Bill 2014 and subsequent Finance Acts extended the Historic Vehicle class cut-off year from 1973 to 1974 and subsequently, a rolling forty years. This had the effect of linking eligibility to display old-style plates with 'Tax Exempt' vehicle status. It follows that the older style plates are now available for any vehicle constructed 40 or more years ago, provided that an application has been made to the DVLA to have the vehicle included in the historic vehicle class; it is so registered and is nil-rated for Vehicle Excise Duty.[8]


Vintage Triumph motorcycle with front plate

Until 1975, motorcycles had to display a front plate, colloquially known as the "pedestrian slicer".[9], which was usually but not always a double-sided plate on top of the front mudguard, curved to follow the contour of the wheel and visible from the sides. Motorcycles registered after 1 September 2001 may only display a rear number plate, while motorcycles registered before that date can display a number plate at the front if desired[10].

The standard size for a motorcycle number in the UK is 9" x 7"(228mm x 178mm), though you can change this size along as you do not alter the characters that are displayed on the number plates. If you have a full registration that means you will could have a custom shaped plate over the minimum legal size of 9" x 7".[11]

Great Britain[edit]

Diagram of UK number plate, descriptions below

Current system[edit]


The current system for Great Britain was introduced on 1 September 2001. Each registration index consists of seven characters with a defined format.[12]

From left to right, the characters consist of:

  • A local memory tag, or area code, consisting of two letters which together indicate the local registration office. By December 2013, all local offices had been closed,[13] but the letters still represent a region. The letters I, Q and Z are not used as local office identifiers, though O is still needed for Oxford; Z can be used only as a random letter.
    • The first of these two letters is a mnemonic standing for the name of the broad area where the registration office is located. This is intended to make the registration more memorable than an arbitrary code.[14][15] For example, A is used as the first character in all registrations issued by the three offices located in the vicinity of East Anglia;
  • A two-digit age identifier, which changes twice a year, in March and September. The code is either the last two digits of the year itself if issued between March and August (e.g. "10" for registrations issued between 1 March and 31 August 2010), or else has 50 added to that value if issued between September and February the following year (e.g. "60" for registrations issued between 1 September 2010 and 28 February 2011);
  • A three-letter sequence which uniquely distinguishes each of the vehicles displaying the same initial four-character area and age sequence. The letters I and Q are excluded from the three-letter sequence, as are combinations that may appear offensive (including those in foreign languages). Due to batch allocation of new registration marks to dealers, it is common for cars with "neighbouring" letter sequences to be of the same manufacturer.

This scheme has three particular advantages:

  • A buyer of a second-hand vehicle can in theory determine the year of first registration of the vehicle without having to look it up. However, a vehicle is permitted to display a number plate where the age identifier is older (but not newer) than the vehicle. The wide awareness of how the "age identifier" works has led to it being used in advertising by used-car showrooms instead of simply stating a year.
  • In the case of a police investigation of an accident or vehicle-related crime, witnesses usually remember the initial area code letters — it is then quite simple to narrow down suspect vehicles to a much smaller number by checking the authority's database without having to know the full number.[16]
  • The scheme should have sufficient numbers to run until 28 February 2051.

Local memory tags[edit]


First letter Official local mnemonic[12][15] DVLA Office Second letter (DVLA Office identifier)
A Anglia Peterborough A B C D E F G J K M N
reserved for select issue H L
Norwich O P R S T U
Ipswich V W X Y
B Birmingham Birmingham A B C D E F G H J K L M N O P R S T U V W X
reserved for select issue Y
C Cymru (Wales) Cardiff A B C D E F G H J K L M N O
Swansea P R S T U V
Bangor W X
reserved for select issue Y
D Deeside Chester A B C D E F G H J K
Shrewsbury L M N O P S T U V W X Y
reserved for select issue R
E Essex Chelmsford A B C E F G J K L M N O P R S T U V W X Y
reserved for select issue D H
F Forest and Fens Nottingham A B C D E F G H J K L M N P
banned and not issued O U
Lincoln R S T V W X Y
G Garden of England Maidstone A B C D E F G H J K L M N
reserved for select issue O
Brighton P R S T U V W X Y
H Hampshire and Dorset Bournemouth A B C D E F G H J
Portsmouth K L M N P R S T U V X Y
reserved for select issue O
reserved for the Isle of Wight (issued in Portsmouth) W
K No official mnemonic[b] Borehamwood (formerly Luton)[c] A B C D E F G H J K L
Northampton M N O P R S T U V W X Y
L London Wimbledon A B C D E F G H J
Borehamwood (formerly Stanmore) K L M N O P R S T
Sidcup U V W X Y
M Manchester and Merseyside Manchester A B C D E F G H J K L M P T U V W X
reserved for the Isle of Man (not issued) N
reserved for select issue O R S Y
N North Newcastle A B C D E F G H J K L M N O
Stockton P R S T U V W X Y
O Oxford Oxford A B C D E F G H J L M O P T U V W X Y
reserved for select issue K N R S
P Preston Preston A B C D E F G H J K L M N O P R S T
Carlisle U V W X Y
R Reading Reading A B C D E F G H J K L M N O P R S T V W X Y
reserved for select issue U
S Scotland[a] Glasgow A B C D E F G H J
Edinburgh K L M N O
Dundee P R S T
reserved for select issue U
Aberdeen V W
Inverness X Y
V Severn Valley Worcester A B C E F G H J K L M N O P R S T U V X Y
reserved for select issue D W
W West of England Exeter A B D E F G H J
reserved for select issue C
Truro K L
Bristol M N O P R S T U V W X Y
X Personal export[19]
  • Beverley
  • Birmingham
  • Bristol
  • Chelmsford
  • Glasgow
  • Leeds
  • Lincoln
  • Maidstone
  • Manchester
  • Northampton
  • Norwich
  • Oxford
  • Stockton
  • Wimbledon[19]
A (March/September issue)
B (April/October issue)
C (May/November issue)
D (June/December issue)
E (July/January issue)
F (August/February issue)
reserved for select issue G H J K L M N O P R S T U V W X Y
Y Yorkshire Leeds[d][e] A B C D E F G H J K L
Sheffield[d][e][f] M N O P R S T U V
Beverley[e] W X Y

aThe first letter T was additionally used for some registrations in Scotland in 2007. (TN07 was used instead of SN07 as the latter too closely resembled SNOT.)[20]

bThere is no official name ascribed to the letter K by the DVLA, although reference may be made to the 'K' in Milton Keynes – the new town that is located between the two 'K' DVLA offices.

cLuton DVLA office, until 8 February 2010 when it closed and had all operations moved to Borehamwood

d1 d2YA and YO were originally reserved for select issue, however are now issued as standard due to increasing demand.[18]

e1 e2YL was allocated to Sheffield for the 51 registration period, but now appears to be allocated to Leeds; may vary depending on demand.[18]

f1 f2YV was allocated to Beverley for the 51 registration period, but now appears to be allocated to Sheffield; may vary depending on demand.[18]

In addition to the above local memory tags, personalised registrations are also offered with arbitrary "local memory tags" prefixes, except for the letters I, Q and Z but including the letters J, T and U, which are unused as area codes.[21]

Age identifiers[edit]

Year 1 March – 31 August 1 September – 28/29 February
2001/02 Y[c] 51
2002/03 02 52
2003/04 03 53
2004/05 04 54
2005/06 05 55
2006/07 06 56
2007/08 07 57
2008/09 08 58
2009/10 09 59
2010/11 10 60
2011/12 11 61
2012/13 12 62
2013/14 13 63
2014/15 14 64
2015/16 15 65
2016/17 16 66
2017/18 17 67
2018/19 18 68
2019/20 19 69
2020/21 20 70
2021/22 21 71
2022/23 22 72
2023/24 23 73
2024/25 24 74
2025/26 25 75
Year 1 March – 31 August 1 September – 28/29 February
2026/27 26 76
2027/28 27 77
2028/29 28 78
2029/30 29 79
2030/31 30 80
2031/32 31 81
2032/33 32 82
2033/34 33 83
2034/35 34 84
2035/36 35 85
2036/37 36 86
2037/38 37 87
2038/39 38 88
2039/40 39 89
2040/41 40 90
2041/42 41 91
2042/43 42 92
2043/44 43 93
2044/45 44 94
2045/46 45 95
2046/47 46 96
2047/48 47 97
2048/49 48 98
2049/50 49 99
2050/51 50 00

cLast year identifier from previous system

European Union symbol[edit]

Examples of British style number plate strips

Some UK number plates have conformed to the 1998 European standard design,[22] with black lettering on a white or yellow background. The standard design have also incorporated a blue strip on the left side of the plate with the European Union symbol and the country identification code of the member state, although this aspect of the design is not compulsory. EU member states that require foreign vehicles to display a distinguishing sign of the country of origin (e.g. 'GB' for the United Kingdom) are obliged by Article 3 of EU Regulation No. 2411/98 to accept this standard design as a distinguishing sign when displayed on a vehicle registered in another member state, making a separate sign unnecessary for vehicles registered in the EU.

British vehicle registration plate EU.PNG United Kingdom motorcycle number plate GB LL51 JMB.png United Kingdom license plate GB YK02 OML.jpg
The British version of the EU standard number plate; this European plate is optional for UK vehicles.
This format is used for motorcycles and other vehicles where a narrower plate is required (showing optional EU symbol).
A British, Leeds–registered number plate without the EU symbol; UK vehicles must display a separate GB sticker if used outside the UK with plates without the EU symbol.

National emblems within Great Britain[edit]

Owners of vehicles registered in Great Britain which are not already displaying the EU format "GB" plate may choose to display plates with one of the national emblems below plus lettering. Either the full wording or the abbreviation is used.[23]

United Kingdom England Scotland Wales
Great Britain
United Kingdom
ENG – Eng – ENGLAND – England
SCO – Sco – SCOTLAND – Scotland
CYM – Cym – CYMRU – Cymru
WALES – Wales

Currently no other flags are allowed to be displayed on the plate. These regulations do not extend to Northern Ireland as there is no consensus on a national symbol.

Although these plates are permitted throughout the entire UK,[23] the UK government state that they are not recognised in other countries, and therefore a motorist who drives a vehicle abroad displaying these plates must also affix a "GB" sticker. However, after the UK ratified the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic in 2018, number plates with the distinguishing code "GB" featuring the Union Jack (flag of the UK) should be valid in other countries party to named convention, as such number plate displays a distinguishing code for the country of registration incorporated into the vehicle registration plate, and is supplemented with a flag or emblem of the national state/the regional economic integration organisation the country belongs, and hence satisfies the requirements set out in the convention.[24]

The European Commission has confirmed that after Brexit, British cars with number plates with the distinguishing sign incorporated do not need a separate sign when driving in EU countries party to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. If the number plate does not include the distinguishing sign, or if the vehicle is driven in an EU country not party to the Vienna Convention, a separate sign has to be displayed at the rear of the vehicle. All EU countries except Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and Spain are party to the convention.[25]

Examples of British registration plates with national emblems[edit]
British vehicle registration plate CYM.PNG British vehicle registration plate CYM 2.PNG British vehicle registration plate WAL.PNG British vehicle registration plate ENG.PNG
CYM – Example of official Welsh "CYM" version
Cymru – Example of official Welsh "Cymru" version
Wales – Example of official Welsh "Wales" version
ENG – Example of official English "ENG" version
British vehicle registration plate ENG 2.PNG British vehicle registration plate GB.PNG British vehicle registration plate GB 2.PNG British vehicle registration plate UK.PNG
England – Example of official English "England" version
GB – Example of official British "GB" version
Great Britain – Example of official British "Great Britain" version
UK – Example of official British "UK" version
British vehicle registration plate UK 2.PNG British vehicle registration plate SCO.PNG British vehicle registration plate SCO 2.PNG British vehicle registration plate.PNG
United Kingdom – Example of official British "United Kingdom" version
SCO – Example of official Scottish "SCO" version
Scotland – Example of official Scottish "Scotland" version
No identifier or EU symbol – the EU symbol is not compulsory


The standard (79 mm height) typeface is set out in the Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001.[26] An alternative (64 mm) font is provided for motorcycles (schedule 4 part 2, p. 24).

The standard font, unofficially known as Charles Wright 2001, is a subtly redrawn version of Charles Wright's original 1935 font. The width of the previous font was condensed from 57 mm to 50 mm to allow space for the extra letter and the optional blue EU strip. The letter O and the digit 0 are intentionally identical, as are the letter I and digit 1. But the typeface accentuates the differences between characters such as 8 and B, or D and 0, with slab serifs to improve the legibility of a plate from a distance. This is especially useful for the automatic number plate recognition software of speed cameras and CCTV. This accentuation also discourages the tampering that is sometimes practised with the use of black insulating tape or paint to change letter forms (such as P to R, or 9 to 8), or with the inclusion of carefully positioned black "fixing screw" dots that alter the appearance of letters on some vanity plates.

The design has similarities with the FE-Schrift number-plate font which was introduced in Germany in 1994 and which has been mandatory there since 2000. However, the UK design remains more conventional in its character shapes.

Special plates[edit]

Registrations having a combination of characters that are particularly appealing (resembling a name, for example) are auctioned each year. The first of these auctions was in 1989.[27][28]

For the 07 registration period a higher than usual number of Scottish 07 codes were retained as Select registrations for sale and an additional allocation of Tx letter pairs were released for use by the local offices in Scotland with the same allocation as the Sx letter pairs (for example Edinburgh with SK to SN allocated had TK to TN added)[a].[29]

In 2007 the Edinburgh DVLA office exceptionally issued TN07 prefixed registrations for some vehicles, instead of the expected 'SN07'. This was stated to be because of potential offence caused by interpreting SN07 as 'snot'.[30]

Older plates[edit]

Vehicles registered under previous numbering systems continue to retain their original number plates but the area identifier in the previous number system is not the same area as the post 2001 area identifier, e.g. AA pre 2001 is Bournemouth whereas AA post 2001 is Peterborough. Subject to certain conditions, number plates can be transferred between vehicles by the vehicle owner; some of these transfers involve tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds changing hands, because of the desirability of a specific letter/number combination.


Before 1932[edit]

Number plate displaying a vehicle registration mark created between 1903 and 1932

The first series of number plates was issued in 1903 and ran until 1932, consisting of a one- or two-letter code followed by a sequence number from 1 to 9999.[31] The code indicated the local authority in whose area the vehicle was registered. In England and Wales, these were initially allocated in order of population size (by the 1901 census) – thus A indicated London, B indicated Lancashire, C indicated the West Riding of Yorkshire and so on to Y indicating Somerset, then AA indicated Hampshire, AB indicated Worcestershire and so on to FP indicating Rutland.

The letters G, S and V were initially restricted to Scotland, and the letters I and Z to Ireland. In both cases, allocations of codes were made in alphabetical order of counties, followed by county boroughs[32] – thus in Scotland, Aberdeenshire was allocated SA, Argyll received SB and so on, while in Ireland Antrim was allocated IA, Armagh received IB, and so on.

When a licensing authority reached 9999, it was allocated another two-letter code, but there was no pattern to these subsequent allocations as they were allocated on a first come first served basis. London and Middlesex quickly took most codes with L and M as the first letter respectively, while Surrey, initially allocated P, took many codes beginning with that letter.

The first mark to be issued in London was the simple, bold, A 1 and this was registered to Earl Russell. He wanted the mark so badly he camped out all night to secure it, making him not only the first registrant but also the inventor of the idea of having a distinctive, personalised or cherished plate on a vehicle.[33]

A zero has been issued by several issuing authorities for the official car of the council head, in cases where plate number "1" had already been issued by the time the councils decided to give priority to its first citizen.[34] Example include the Lord Mayor of London (LM 0[34][35]) and the Lord Provosts of Edinburgh (S 0), of Glasgow (G 0) and of Aberdeen (RG 0).[34]

1932 to 1963[edit]

By 1932, the available codes were running out, and an extended scheme was introduced. This scheme placed a serial letter before the code, and had the sequence number run only to 999, thus restricting the number of characters in a registration to six. The first area to issue such marks was Staffordshire in July 1932 with ARF 1 etc.,[36] and all other areas in England and Wales, plus most areas in Scotland, followed suit once they had issued all their two-letter registrations.

I, Q, and Z were not used as serial letters, as the use of I and Z continued to be restricted to Ireland and Q was reserved for temporary imports, while the single-letter codes were left out of this scheme as a serial letter would have created a duplicate of an existing two-letter code. (The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland later adopted this scheme in their own ways, and the latter still uses it.)

In some areas, the available marks within this scheme started to run out in the 1950s, and in those areas, what became known as "reversed" registrations – the letters coming after the numbers – were introduced. Staffordshire was again the first area to issue such registrations, starting with 1000 E in 1953. In most cases, the three-letter combinations (e.g. 1 AHX for Middlesex) would be issued first, while in later years some areas started with the one- and two-letter combinations and others issued all three at the same time. The ever-increasing popularity of the car meant that by the beginning of the 1960s, these registrations were also running out.

Some three-letter combinations were not authorised for licensing use as they were deemed offensive. These included ARS, BUM, GOD, JEW, SEX, and SOD.[37][38] DUW was issued in London for several months in 1934 before it was realised it was the Welsh for God, and withdrawn.[29] Even then, there were some registrations which would now be called cherished plates. One was RAD10 (BBC) and another was IND1A (Indian Embassy).

1963 to 1982[edit]

In August 1962, an attempt was made to create a national scheme to alleviate the problem of registrations running out. This used the scheme introduced in 1932, of a three-letter combination followed by a sequence number from 1 to 999, but also added a letter suffix, which initially changed on 1 January each year. An "A" suffix was thus used for 1963, "B" for 1964, etc. Middlesex was the first authority to adopt this scheme when it issued AHX 1A in February 1963.[39] Most other areas followed suit during 1964, but some chose to stick to their own schemes up until 1 January 1965, when the letter suffix was made compulsory.

As well as yielding many more available numbers, it was a handy way for vehicle buyers to know the age of the vehicle immediately. However, the year letter changing on 1 January each year meant that car retailers soon started to notice that buyers would tend to wait until the New Year for the new letter to be issued, so that they could get a "newer" car. This led to major peaks and troughs in sales over the year, and to help flatten this out somewhat the industry lobbied to get the scheme changed, so that the change of year letter occurred on 1 August rather than 1 January. This was done in 1967, when "E" suffixes ran only from 1 January to 31 July, before "F" suffixes commenced on 1 August.

At the beginning, plates were black with white or silver characters. Reflective plates were introduced in 1969 and were white on the front and yellow on the rear with black characters.

In October 1974, responsibility for issuing registrations was transferred from local and regional authorities to specialist Local Vehicle Licensing Offices (LVLOs) or Vehicle Registration Offices (VROs) run by the DVLA. Most of the two-letter area codes allocated during the first scheme continued in their respective areas, albeit now indicating the nearest LVLO/VRO rather than the local or regional authority. However, the decision to streamline the allocations of these codes meant that some were transferred to new areas. For instance, the former Suffolk code CF was transferred to Reading, while the former Edinburgh code WS was re-allocated to Bristol.[36]

1983 to 2001[edit]

By 1982, the year suffixes had reached Y and so from 1983 onwards the sequence was reversed again, so that the year letter — starting again at "A" — preceded the numbers then the letters of the registration. The available range was then A21 AAA to Y999 YYY, the numbers 1–20 being held back for the government's proposed, and later implemented, DVLA select registration sales scheme. Towards the mid-1990s there was some discussion about introducing a unified scheme for Europe, which would also incorporate the country code of origin of the vehicle, but after much debate such a scheme was not adopted because of lack of countries willing to participate.

A construction vehicle bearing a Q number plate, August 2016, UK

The changes in 1983 also brought the letter Q into use – although on a very small and limited scale. It was used on vehicles of indeterminate age, such as those assembled from kits, substantial rebuilds, or imported vehicles where the documentation is insufficient to determine the age. There was a marked increase in the use of Q registrations in the late 1980s and early 1990s, fuelled by car crime.[citation needed] Many stolen vehicles had false identities given to them, and when this was discovered and the original identity could not be determined, a Q registration would be issued to such vehicle. It was seen as an aid to consumer protection. Due to indeterminate age, origin and specification of Q registration vehicles, most motor insurers are reluctant to offer cover for these 'Q-plate' vehicles.

By the late 1990s, the range of available numbers was once again starting to run out, exacerbated by a move to biannual changes in registration letters (March and September) in 1999 to smooth out the bulge in registrations every August, so a new scheme needed to be adopted. It was decided to research a system that would be easier for crash or vehicle related crime witnesses to remember and clearer to read, yet still fit within a normal standard plate size.

Year identifiers[edit]

In order to avoid any confusion, the letters I, O, Q, U and Z have never been issued as year identifiers: I because of its similarity to the numeral 1; O and Q because of similarity to a zero; U because of similarity to the letter V; and Z because of similarity to the numeral 2.

Suffix letter series 1963–83 Prefix letter series 1983–2001
Letter Dates of issue
A February 1963[40] – 31 December 1963
B 1 January 1964 – 31 December 1964
C 1 January 1965 – 31 December 1965
D 1 January 1966 – 31 December 1966
E 1 January 1967 – 31 July 1967
F 1 August 1967 – 31 July 1968
G 1 August 1968 – 31 July 1969
H 1 August 1969 – 31 July 1970
J 1 August 1970 – 31 July 1971
K 1 August 1971 – 31 July 1972
L 1 August 1972 – 31 July 1973
M 1 August 1973 – 31 July 1974
N 1 August 1974 – 31 July 1975
P 1 August 1975 – 31 July 1976
R 1 August 1976 – 31 July 1977
S 1 August 1977 – 31 July 1978
T 1 August 1978 – 31 July 1979
V 1 August 1979 – 31 July 1980
W 1 August 1980 – 31 July 1981
X 1 August 1981 – 31 July 1982
Y 1 August 1982 – 31 July 1983
Letter Dates of issue
A 1 August 1983 – 31 July 1984
B 1 August 1984 – 31 July 1985
C 1 August 1985 – 31 July 1986
D 1 August 1986 – 31 July 1987
E 1 August 1987 – 31 July 1988
F 1 August 1988 – 31 July 1989
G 1 August 1989 – 31 July 1990
H 1 August 1990 – 31 July 1991
J 1 August 1991 – 31 July 1992
K 1 August 1992 – 31 July 1993
L 1 August 1993 – 31 July 1994
M 1 August 1994 – 31 July 1995
N 1 August 1995 – 31 July 1996
P 1 August 1996 – 31 July 1997
R 1 August 1997 – 31 July 1998
S 1 August 1998 – 28 February 1999
T 1 March 1999 – 31 August 1999
V 1 September 1999 – 29 February 2000
W 1 March 2000 – 31 August 2000
X 1 September 2000 – 28 February 2001
Y 1 March 2001 – 31 August 2001

Pre-2001 codes[edit]

Normally the last two letters would indicate where the car was initially registered. The letters I and Z are reserved for Ireland.[41][42] If you want to look for the office code (or council code until 1974) easier, look at the bold letters next to the examples (ABC 123D; A123 BCD). Note that pre-2001 number plates where the last two letters indicate the original district of registration is not the same as the first two letters of the post-2001 system so, for example, pre 2001 AB is Worcester, whereas post 2001 AB is Peterborough.

For the list of Northern Ireland codes, see the Northern Ireland section of this article. For a full list of Irish codes, see Vehicle registration plates of the Republic of Ireland.

First letter Code County or city Code County or city Code County or city
A A London (1903-64) AA Hampshire (1903-74); Salisbury (1974-80); Bournemouth (for Salisbury) (from 1980) AB Worcestershire (1903-74); Worcester (from 1974)
AC Warwickshire (1903-74); Coventry (1974-96) AD Gloucestershire (1903-74); Gloucester (1974-97) AE Bristol
AF Cornwall (1903-74); Truro (from 1974) AG Ayrshire (1925-74); Hull (from 1974) AH Norfolk (1903-74); Norwich (from 1974)
AJ Yorkshire (North Riding) (1903-74); Middlesbrough (from 1974) AK Bradford (1903-74); Sheffield (from 1974) AL Nottinghamshire (1903-74); Nottingham (from 1974)
AM Wiltshire (1903-74); Swindon (1974-97); Bristol (for Swindon) (from 1997) AN West Ham (1903-65); London (1965-74); Reading (from 1974) (MAN reserved for Isle of Man) AO Cumberland (1903-74); Carlisle (from 1974)
AP East Sussex (1903-74); Brighton (from 1974) AR Hertfordshire (1903-74); Chelmsford (from 1974) AS Nairnshire (1903-74); Inverness (from 1974)
AT Hull AU Nottingham AV Aberdeenshire (1926-74); Peterborough (from 1974)
AW Shropshire (1903-74); Shrewsbury (from 1974) AX Monmouthshire (1903-74); Cardiff (from 1974) AY Leicestershire (1903-74); Leicester (1974-96); Nottingham (for Leicester) (from 1996)
B B Lancashire (1903-63) BA Salford (1903-74); Manchester (from 1974) BB Newcastle upon Tyne
BC Leicester BD Northamptonshire (1903-74); Northampton (from 1974) BE Lincolnshire (Lindsey) (1903-74); Grimsby (1974-81); Lincoln (for Grimsby) (from 1981)
BF Dorset (1903-05); Staffordshire (1960-74); Stoke-on-Trent (1974-97); Nottingham (for Stoke-on-Trent) (from 1997) BG Birkenhead (1931-74); Liverpool (1974-96) BH Buckinghamshire (1903-74); Luton (from 1974)
BJ East Suffolk (1903-74); Ipswich (from 1974) BK Portsmouth BL Berkshire (1903-74); Reading (from 1974)
BM Bedfordshire (1903-74); Luton (from 1974) BN Manchester (Bolton until 1981) BO Cardiff
BP West Sussex (1903-74); Portsmouth (from 1974) BR Sunderland (1903-74); Durham (1974-81); Newcastle upon Tyne (for Durham) (from 1981) BS Orkney (1903-74); Kirkwall (1974-80); Inverness (for Kirkwall) (from 1980)
BT Yorkshire (East Riding) (1903-74); York (1974-81); Leeds (for York) (from 1981) BU Oldham (1903-74); Manchester (from 1974) BV Blackburn (1930-74); Preston (from 1974)
BW Oxfordshire (1903-74); Oxford (from 1974) BX Carmarthenshire (1903-74); Haverfordwest (1974-96); Swansea (for Haverfordwest) (from 1996) BY Croydon (1903-65); London (1965-74); London North-West (from 1974)
C C Yorkshire (West Riding) (1903-64) CA Denbighshire (1903-74); Chester (from 1974) CB Blackburn (1903-74); Bolton (1974-81); Manchester (for Bolton) (from 1981)
CC Caernarfonshire (1903-74); Bangor (from 1974) CD Brighton CE Peterborough (Cambridge until 1981)
CF West Suffolk (1903-74); Reading (from 1974) CG Hampshire (1931-74); Salisbury (1974-80); Bournemouth (for Salisbury) (from 1980) CH Derby (1903-74); Nottingham (from 1974)
CJ Herefordshire (1903-74); Hereford (1974-81); Gloucester (for Hereford) (1981-97) CK Preston CL Norwich
CM Birkenhead (1903-74); Liverpool (1974-96) CN Gateshead (1903-74); Newcastle upon Tyne (from 1974) CO Exeter (Plymouth until 1980)
CP Halifax (1903-74); Huddersfield (1974-95) CR Southampton (1903-74); Portsmouth (from 1974) CS Ayrshire (1934-74); Ayr (1974-81); Glasgow (for Ayr) (from 1981)
CT Lincolnshire (Kesteven) (1903-74); Boston (1974-81); Lincoln (for Boston) (from 1981) CU South Shields (1903-74); Newcastle upon Tyne (from 1974) CV Cornwall (1929-74); Truro (from 1974)
CW Burnley (1903-74); Preston (from 1974) CX Huddersfield CY Swansea (SCY used for Isles of Scilly)
D D Kent (1903-64) DA Wolverhampton (1903-74); Birmingham (from 1974) DB Stockport (1903-74); Manchester (from 1974)
DC Middlesbrough DD Gloucestershire (1921-74); Gloucester (1974-97) DE Pembrokeshire (1903-74); Haverfordwest (1974-96); Swansea (for Haverfordwest) (from 1996)
DF Northampton (1903-05); Gloucestershire (1926-74); Gloucester (1974-97) DG Gloucestershire (1930-74); Gloucester (1974-97) DH Walsall (1903-74); Dudley (1974-96)
DJ St Helens (1903-74); Warrington (1974-81); Liverpool (for Warrington) (1981-96) DK Rochdale (1903-74); Bolton (1974-81); Manchester (for Bolton) (from 1981) DL Isle of Wight (1903-74); Newport (IoW) (1974-81); Portsmouth (for IoW) (from 1981)
DM Flintshire (1903-74); Chester (from 1974) DN Leeds (York until 1981) DO Lincolnshire (Holland) (1903-74); Boston (1974-81); Lincoln (for Boston) (from 1981)
DP Reading DR Exeter (Plymouth until 1980) DS Peeblesshire (1903-74); Glasgow (from 1974)
DT Doncaster (1927-74); Sheffield (from 1974) DU Coventry DV Devon (1929-74); Exeter (from 1974)
DW Newport (1903-74); Cardiff (from 1974) DX Ipswich DY Brighton (Hastings until 1980)
E E Staffordshire (1903-63) EA West Bromwich (1903-74); Dudley (1974-96) EB Isle of Ely (1903-65); Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely (1965-74); Cambridge (1974-80); Peterborough (for Cambridge) (from 1980)
EC Westmorland (1903-74); Kendal (1974-81); Preston (for Kendal) (from 1981) ED Liverpool (Warrington until 1981) EE Lincoln (Grimsby until 1981)
EF West Hartlepool (1903-74); Middlesbrough (from 1974) EG Peterborough EH Stoke-on-Trent
EJ Haverfordwest (Cardiganshire until 1974; Aberystwyth until 1981) EK Wigan (1903-74); Warrington (1974-81); Liverpool (for Warrington) (1981-96) EL Bournemouth
EM Bootle (1903-74); Liverpool (1974-96) EN Bury (1903-74); Bolton (1974-81); Manchester (for Bolton) (from 1981) EO Preston (Barrow-in-Furness until 1981)
EP Montgomeryshire (1903-74); Swansea (from 1974) ER Peterborough (Cambridge until 1981) ES Perthshire (1903-74); Dundee (from 1974)
ET Rotherham (1903-74); Sheffield (from 1974) EU Breconshire (1903-74); Bristol (from 1974) EV Essex (1931-74); Chelmsford (from 1974)
EW Huntingdonshire (1903-65); Huntingdon and Peterborough (1965-74); Peterborough (from 1974) EX Great Yarmouth (1903-74); Norwich (from 1974) EY Anglesey (1903-74); Bangor (from 1974)
F F Essex (1903-63) FA Burton upon Trent (1903-74); Stoke-on-Trent (1974-97); Nottingham (for Stoke-on-Trent) (from 1997) FB Bath (1903-74); Bristol (from 1974)
FC Oxford FD Dudley FE Lincoln
FF Bangor (Merionethshire until 1974; Aberystwyth until 1981) FG Fife (1925-74); Brighton (from 1974) FH Gloucester
FJ Exeter FK Worcester (1903-74); Dudley (1974-96) FL Peterborough
FM Chester FN Maidstone (Canterbury until 1981) FO Gloucester (Radnorshire until 1974; Hereford for Radnorshire until 1981)
FP Rutland (1903-74); Leicester (1974-96); Nottingham (for Leicester) (from 1996) FR Blackpool (1904-74); Preston (from 1974) FS Edinburgh
FT Tynemouth (1904-74); Newcastle upon Tyne (from 1974) FU Lincolnshire (Lindsey) (1922-74); Grimsby (1974-81); Lincoln (for Grimsby) (from 1981) FV Blackpool (1929-74); Preston (from 1974)
FW Lincolnshire (Lindsey) (1929-74); Lincoln (from 1974) FX Dorset (1905-74); Bournemouth (from 1974) FY Southport (1905-74); Liverpool (1974-96)
G G Glasgow (1903-63) GA Glasgow GB Glasgow
GC London (1929-74); London South-West (from 1974) GD Glasgow GE Glasgow
GF London (1930-74); London South-West (from 1974) GG Glasgow GH London (1930-74); London South-West (from 1974)
GJ London (1930-74); London South-West (from 1974) GK London (1930-74); London South-West (from 1974) GL Bath (1932-74); Truro (from 1974)
GM Motherwell and Wishaw (1920-74); Reading (from 1974) GN London (1931-74); London South-West (from 1974) GO London (1931-74); London South-West (from 1974)
GP London (1931-74); London South-West (from 1974) GR Sunderland (1933-74); Durham (1974-81); Newcastle upon Tyne (for Durham) (from 1981) GS Perthshire (1928-74); Luton (from 1974)
GT London (1931-74); London South-West (from 1974) GU London (1929-74); London South-East (from 1974) GV West Suffolk (1930-74); Ipswich (from 1974)
GW London (1931-74); London South-East (from 1974) GX London (1932-74); London South-East (from 1974) GY London (1932-74); London South-East (from 1974)
H H Middlesex (1903-63) HA Smethwick (1907-74); Dudley (1974-96) HB Merthyr Tydfil (1908-74); Cardiff (from 1974)
HC Eastbourne (1911-74); Hastings (1974-80); Brighton (for Hastings) (from 1980) HD Dewsbury (1913-74); Huddersfield (1974-95) HE Barnsley (1913-74); Sheffield (from 1974)
HF Wallasey (1913-74); Liverpool (1974-96) HG Burnley (1930-74); Preston (from 1974) HH Carlisle
HJ Southend-on-Sea (1914-74); Chelmsford (from 1974) HK Essex (1915-74); Chelmsford (from 1974) HL Wakefield (1915-74); Sheffield (from 1974)
HM East Ham (1916-65); London (1965-74); London Central (1974-97) HN Darlington (1921-74); Middlesbrough (from 1974) HO Hampshire (1917-74); Salisbury (1974-80); Bournemouth (for Salisbury) (from 1980)
HP Coventry HR Wiltshire (1919-74); Swindon (1974-97); Bristol (for Swindon) (from 1997) HS Renfrewshire (1903-74); Glasgow (from 1974)
HT Bristol HU Bristol HV East Ham (1930-65); London (1965-74); London Central (1974-97)
HW Bristol HX Middlesex (1930-65); London (1965-74); London Central (1974-97) HY Bristol
J J Durham (1903-64) JA Stockport (1929-74); Manchester (from 1974) JB Berkshire (1932-74); Reading (from 1974)
JC Caernarfonshire (1931-74); Bangor (from 1974) JD West Ham (1929-65); London (1965-74); London Central (1974-97) JE Isle of Ely (1933-65); Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely (1965-74); Cambridge (1974-80); Peterborough (for Cambridge) (from 1980)
JF Leicester JG Maidstone (Canterbury until 1981) JH Hertfordshire (1931-74); Reading (from 1974)
JJ Maidstone (London until 1974; Canterbury until 1981) JK Eastbourne (1928-74); Hastings (1974-80); Brighton (for Hastings) (from 1980) JL Lincolnshire (Holland) (1932-74); Boston (1974-81); Lincoln (for Boston) (from 1981)
JM Westmorland (1931-74); Reading (from 1974) JN Southend-on-Sea (1930-74); Chelmsford (from 1974) JO Oxford
JP Wigan (1934-74); Warrington (1974-81); Liverpool (for Warrington) (1981-96) JR Northumberland (1932-74); Newcastle upon Tyne (from 1974) JS Ross and Cromarty (1903-74); Stornoway (1974-80); Inverness (for Stornoway) (from 1980)
JT Dorset (1933-74); Bournemouth (from 1974) JU Leicestershire (1931-74); Leicester (1974-96); Nottingham (for Leicester) (from 1996) JV Lincoln (Grimsby until 1981)
JW Wolverhampton (1931-74); Birmingham (from 1974) JX Halifax (1932-74); Huddersfield (1974-95) JY Exeter (Plymouth until 1980)
K K Liverpool (1903-64) KA Liverpool KB Liverpool
KC Liverpool KD Liverpool KE Maidstone
KF Liverpool KG Cardiff KH Hull
KJ Maidstone KK Maidstone KL Maidstone
KM Maidstone KN Maidstone KO Maidstone
KP Maidstone KR Maidstone KS Roxburghshire (1903-74); Selkirk (1974-80); Edinburgh (for Selkirk) (from 1980)
KT Maidstone (Canterbury until 1981) KU Bradford (1922-74); Sheffield (from 1974) KV Coventry
KW Bradford (1926-74); Sheffield (from 1974) KX Buckinghamshire (1928-74); Luton (from 1974) KY Bradford (1931-74); Sheffield (from 1974)
L L Glamorgan (1903-64) LA London (1910-74); London North-West (from 1974) LB London (1908-74); London North-West (from 1974)
LC London (1905-74); London North-West (from 1974) LD London (1909-74); London North-West (from 1974) LE London (1911-74); London North-West (from 1974)
LF London (1912-74); London North-West (from 1974) LG Cheshire (1928-74); Chester (from 1974) LH London (1913-74); London North-West (from 1974)
LJ Bournemouth LK London (1913-74); London North-West (from 1974) LL London (1914-74); London North-West (from 1974)
LM London (1914-74); London North-West (from 1974) LN London (1906-74); London North-West (from 1974) LO London (1915-74); London North-West (from 1974)
LP London (1915-74); London North-West (from 1974) LR London (1916-74); London North-West (from 1974) LS Selkirkshire (1903-74); Stirling (1974-81); Edinburgh (for Stirling) (from 1981)
LT London (1918-74); London North-West (from 1974) LU London (1919-74); London North-West (from 1974) LV Liverpool
LW London (1919-74); London North-West (from 1974) LX London (1919-74); London North-West (from 1974) LY London (1919-74); London North-West (from 1974)
M M Cheshire (1903-63) MA Cheshire (1920-74); Chester (from 1974) MB Cheshire (1922-74); Chester (from 1974)
MC Middlesex (1917-65); London (1965-74); London North-East (1974-97) MD Middlesex (1920-65); London (1965-74); London North-East (1974-97) ME Middlesex (1921-65); London (1965-74); London North-East (1974-97)
MF Middlesex (1923-65); London (1965-74); London North-East (1974-97) MG Middlesex (1930-65); London (1965-74); London North-East (1974-97) MH Middlesex (1924-65); London (1965-74); London North-East (1974-97)
MJ Bedfordshire (1932-74); Luton (from 1974) MK Middlesex (1925-65); London (1965-74); London North-East (1974-97) ML Middlesex (1926-65); London (1965-74); London North-East (1974-97)
MM Middlesex (1926-65); London (1965-74); London North-East (1974-97) MN Isle of Man MO Berkshire (1922-74); Reading (from 1974)
MP Middlesex (1927-65); London (1965-74); London North-East (1974-97) MR Wiltshire (1924-74); Swindon (1974-97); Bristol (for Swindon) (from 1997) MS Stirlingshire (1903-74); Stirling (1974-81); Edinburgh (for Stirling) (from 1981)
MT Middlesex (1928-65); London (1965-74); London North-East (1974-97) MU Middlesex (1929-65); London (1965-74); London North-East (1974-97) MV Middlesex (1931-65); London (1965-74); London South-East (from 1974)
MW Wiltshire (1927-74); Swindon (1974-97); Bristol (for Swindon) (from 1997) MX Middlesex (1912-65); London (1965-74); London South-East (from 1974) MY Middlesex (1929-65); London (1965-74); London South-East (from 1974)
N N Manchester (1903-64) NA Manchester NB Manchester
NC Manchester ND Manchester NE Manchester
NF Manchester NG Norfolk (1930-74); Norwich (from 1974) NH Northampton
NJ East Sussex (1932-74); Brighton (from 1974) NK Hertfordshire (1921-74); Luton (from 1974) NL Northumberland (1921-74); Newcastle upon Tyne (from 1974)
NM Bedfordshire (1920-74); Luton (from 1974) NN Nottinghamshire (1921-74); Nottingham (from 1974) NO Essex (1921-74); Chelmsford (from 1974)
NP Worcestershire (1921-74); Worcester (from 1974) NR Leicestershire (1921-74); Leicester (1974-96); Nottingham (for Leicester) (from 1996) NS Sutherland (1903-74); Glasgow (from 1974)
NT Shropshire (1921-74); Shrewsbury (from 1974) NU Derbyshire (1923-74); Nottingham (from 1974) NV Northamptonshire (1931-74); Northampton (from 1974)
NW Leeds NX Warwickshire (1921-74); Dudley (1974-96) NY Glamorgan (1921-74); Cardiff (from 1974)
O O Birmingham (1903-64) OA Birmingham OB Birmingham
OC Birmingham OD Devon (1931-74); Exeter (from 1974) OE Birmingham
OF Birmingham OG Birmingham OH Birmingham
OJ Birmingham OK Birmingham OL Birmingham
OM Birmingham ON Birmingham OO Essex (1961-74); Chelmsford (from 1974)
OP Birmingham OR Hampshire (1922-74); Portsmouth (from 1974) OS Wigtownshire (1903-74); Stranraer (1974-81); Glasgow (for Stranraer) (from 1981)
OT Hampshire (1926-74); Portsmouth (from 1974) OU Hampshire (1928-74); Bristol (from 1974) OV Birmingham
OW Southampton (1931-74); Portsmouth (from 1974) OX Birmingham OY Croydon (1930-65); London (1965-74); London North-West (from 1974)
P P Surrey (1903-63) PA Guildford PB Guildford
PC Guildford PD Guildford PE Guildford
PF Guildford PG Guildford PH Guildford
PJ Guildford PK Guildford PL Guildford
PM East Sussex (1922-74); Guildford (from 1974) PN East Sussex (1927-74); Brighton (from 1974) PO West Sussex (1929-74); Portsmouth (from 1974) (GPO formerly reserved for General Post Office vehicles)
PP Buckinghamshire (1923-74); Luton (from 1974) PR Dorset (1923-74); Bournemouth (from 1974) PS Shetland (1903-74); Lerwick (1974-80); Aberdeen (for Lerwick) (from 1980)
PT Newcastle upon Tyne (Durham until 1981) PU Essex (1923-74); Chelmsford (from 1974) PV Ipswich
PW Norfolk (1923-74); Norwich (from 1974) PX West Sussex (1923-74); Portsmouth (from 1974) PY Yorkshire (North Riding) (1923-74); Middlesbrough (from 1974)
R R Derbyshire (1903-64) RA Derbyshire (1926-74); Nottingham (from 1974) RB Derbyshire (1929-74); Nottingham (from 1974)
RC Derby (1931-74); Nottingham (from 1974) RD Reading RE Staffordshire (1921-74); Stoke-on-Trent (1974-97); Nottingham (for Stoke-on-Trent) (from 1997)
RF Staffordshire (1924-74); Stoke-on-Trent (1974-97); Nottingham (for Stoke-on-Trent) (from 1997) RG Aberdeen (1928-74); Newcastle upon Tyne (from 1974) RH Hull
RJ Salford (1931-74); Manchester (from 1974) RK Croydon (1922-65); London (1965-74); London North-West (from 1974) RL Cornwall (1924-74); Truro (from 1974)
RM Cumberland (1924-74); Carlisle (from 1974) RN Preston RO Hertfordshire (1925-74); Luton (from 1974)
RP Northamptonshire (1924-74); Northampton (from 1974) RR Nottinghamshire (1925-74); Nottingham (from 1974) RS Aberdeen
RT East Suffolk (1925-74); Ipswich (from 1974) RU Bournemouth RV Portsmouth
RW Coventry RX Berkshire (1927-74); Reading (from 1974) RY Leicester
S S Edinburgh (1903-64) SA Aberdeenshire (1903-74); Aberdeen (from 1974) SB Argyll (1903-74); Oban (1974-80); Glasgow (for Oban) (from 1981)
SC Edinburgh SD Ayrshire (1903-74); Ayr (1974-81); Glasgow (for Ayr) (from 1981) SE Banffshire (1903-74); Keith (1974-81); Aberdeen (for Keith) (from 1981)
SF Edinburgh SG Edinburgh SH Berwickshire (1903-74); Selkirk (1974-80); Edinburgh (for Selkirk) (from 1980)
SJ Bute (1903-74); Ayr (1974-81); Glasgow (for Ayr) (from 1981) SK Caithness (1903-74); Wick (1974-81); Inverness (for Wick) (from 1981) SL Clackmannanshire (1903-74); Dundee (from 1974)
SM Dumfriesshire (1903-74); Dumfries (1974-81); Carlisle (for Dumfries) (from 1981) SN Dunbartonshire (1903-74); Dundee (from 1974) SO Moray (1903-74); Aberdeen (from 1974)
SP Fife (1903-74); Dundee (from 1974) SR Angus (1903-74); Dundee (from 1974) SS East Lothian (1903-74); Aberdeen (from 1974)
ST Inverness-shire (1903-74); Inverness (from 1974) SU Kincardineshire (1903-74); Glasgow (from 1974) SV Kinross-shire (1903-74); unused after 1974
SW Kirkcudbrightshire (1903-74); Dumfries (1974-81); Carlisle (for Dumfries) (from 1981) SX West Lothian (1903-74); Edinburgh (from 1974) SY Midlothian (1903-74); unused after 1974
T T Devon (1903-64) TA Devon (1920-74); Exeter (from 1974) TB Lancashire (1919-74); Warrington (1974-81); Liverpool (for Warrington) (1981-96)
TC Lancashire (1922-74); Bristol (from 1974) TD Lancashire (1924-74); Bolton (1974-81); Manchester (for Bolton) (from 1981) TE Lancashire (1927-74); Bolton (1974-81); Manchester (for Bolton) (from 1981)
TF Lancashire (1929-74); Reading (from 1974) TG Glamorgan (1930-74); Cardiff (from 1974) TH Carmarthenshire (1929-74); Swansea (from 1974)
TJ Lancashire (1932-74); Liverpool (1974-96) TK Dorset (1927-74); Plymouth (1974-80); unused after 1980 TL Lincolnshire (Kesteven) (1928-74); Lincoln (from 1974)
TM Bedfordshire (1927-74); Luton (from 1974) TN Newcastle upon Tyne TO Nottingham
TP Portsmouth TR Southampton (1925-74); Portsmouth (from 1974) TS Dundee
TT Devon (1924-74); Exeter (from 1974) TU Cheshire (1926-74); Chester (from 1974) TV Nottingham
TW Essex (1925-74); Chelmsford (from 1974) TX Glamorgan (1926-74); Cardiff (from 1974) TY Northumberland (1925-74); Newcastle upon Tyne (from 1974)
U U Leeds (1903-64) UA Leeds UB Leeds
UC London (1928-74); London Central (1974-97) UD Oxfordshire (1926-74); Oxford (from 1974) UE Warwickshire (1925-74); Dudley (1974-96)
UF Brighton UG Leeds UH Cardiff
UJ Shropshire (1932-74); Shrewsbury (from 1974) UK Wolverhampton (1925-74); Birmingham (from 1974) UL London (1929-74); London Central (1974-97)
UM Leeds UN Denbighshire (1927-74); Barnstaple (1974-81); Exeter (for Barnstaple) (1981) UO Devon (1926-74); Barnstaple (1974-81); Exeter (for Barnstaple) (1981)
UP Newcastle upon Tyne (Durham until 1981) UR Hertfordshire (1928-74); Luton (from 1974) US Glasgow
UT Leicestershire (1927-74); Leicester (1974-96); Nottingham (for Leicester) (from 1996) UU London (1929-74); London Central (1974-97) UV London (1929-74); London Central (1974-97)
UW London (1929-74); London Central (1974-97) UX Shropshire (1927-74); Shrewsbury (from 1974) UY Worcestershire (1927-74); Worcester (from 1974)
V V Lanarkshire (1903-64) VA Peterborough (Lanarkshire until 1974; Cambridge until 1981) VB Croydon (1927-65); London (1965-74); Canterbury (1974-81)
VC Coventry VD Lanarkshire (1930-74); Luton (1974-77); unused after 1977 VE Peterborough (Cambridge until 1981)
VF Norfolk (1927-74); Norwich (from 1974) VG Norwich VH Huddersfield
VJ Herefordshire (1927-74); Hereford (1974-81); Gloucester (for Hereford) (1981-97) VK Newcastle upon Tyne VL Lincoln
VM Manchester VN Yorkshire (North Riding) (1929-74); Middlesbrough (from 1974) VO Nottingham
VP Birmingham VR Manchester VS Greenock (1903-74); Luton (from 1974)
VT Stoke-on-Trent VU Manchester VV Northampton
VW Essex (1927-74); Chelmsford (from 1974) VX Essex (1929-74); Chelmsford (from 1974) VY Leeds (York until 1981)
W W Sheffield (1903-64) WA Sheffield WB Sheffield
WC Essex (1962-74); Chelmsford (from 1974) WD Warwickshire (1930-74); Dudley (1974-96) WE Sheffield
WF Yorkshire (East Riding) (1926-74); Sheffield (from 1974) WG Stirlingshire (1930-74); Sheffield (from 1974) WH Manchester (Bolton until 1981)
WJ Sheffield WK Coventry WL Oxford
WM Southport (1927-74); Liverpool (1974-96) WN Swansea WO Monmouthshire (1927-74); Cardiff (from 1974)
WP Worcestershire (1931-74); Worcester (from 1974) WR Yorkshire (West Riding) (to 1974); Leeds (from 1974) WS Leith (1903-20); Edinburgh (1934-74); Bristol (from 1974)
WT Yorkshire (West Riding) (to 1974); Leeds (from 1974) WU Yorkshire (West Riding) (to 1974); Leeds (from 1974) WV Wiltshire (1931-74); Brighton (from 1974)
WW Yorkshire (West Riding) (to 1974); Leeds (from 1974) WX Yorkshire (West Riding) (to 1974); Leeds (from 1974) WY Yorkshire (West Riding) (to 1974); Leeds (from 1974)
X X Northumberland (1903-63) XA London (1920-64); Kirkcaldy (1963-74); unused after 1974 XB London (1920-64); Coatbridge (1964-74); unused after 1974
XC London (1920-64); Solihull (1964-74); unused after 1974 XD London (1920-64); Luton (1964-74); unused after 1974 XE London (1920-64); Luton (1964-74); unused after 1974
XF London (1921-64); Torbay (1968-74); unused after 1974 XG Middlesbrough (1929-74); unused after 1974 XH London (1921-64); unused after 1964
XJ Manchester (1932-74); unused after 1974 XK London (1922-64); unused after 1964 XL London (1922-64); unused after 1964
XM London (1922-64); unused after 1964 XN London (1923-64); unused after 1964 XO London (1923-64); unused after 1964
XP London (1923-64); later temporary plates for vehicles being exported to Europe XR London (1924-64); unused after 1964 XS Paisley (1903-74); unused after 1974
XT London (1924-64); unused after 1964 XU London (1924-64); unused after 1964 XV London (1928-64); unused after 1964
XW London (1924-64); unused after 1964 XX London (1925-64); unused after 1964 XY London (1925-64); unused after 1964
Y Y Somerset (1903-64) YA Somerset (1921-74); Taunton (1974-97); Exeter (for Taunton) (from 1997) YB Somerset (1924-74); Taunton (1974-97); Exeter (for Taunton) (from 1997)
YC Somerset (1927-74); Taunton (1974-97); Exeter (for Taunton) (from 1997) YD Somerset (1930-74); Taunton (1974-97); Exeter (for Taunton) (from 1997) YE London (1927-74); London Central (1974-97)
YF London (1927-74); London Central (1974-97) YG Yorkshire (West Riding) (to 1974); Leeds (from 1974) YH London (1927-74); London Central (1974-97)
YJ Dundee (1932-74); Brighton (from 1974) YK London (1925-74); London Central (1974-97) YL London (1925-74); London Central (1974-97)
YM London (1925-74); London Central (1974-97) YN London (1926-74); London Central (1974-97) YO London (1926-74); London Central (1974-97)
YP London (1926-74); London Central (1974-97) YR London (1926-74); London Central (1974-97) YS Glasgow
YT London (1927-74); London Central (1974-97) YU London (1927-74); London Central (1974-97) YV London (1928-74); London Central (1974-97)
YW London (1928-74); London Central (1974-97) YX London (1928-74); London Central (1974-97) YY London (1932-74); London Central (1974-97)

Northern Ireland[edit]

Great Britain map
A Northern Ireland plate displaying the optional EU format "GB" country code. Any other format displaying a side badge, including those bearing the codes "NI" or "IRL", are unofficial.
Northern Ireland plate. EU bands are not provided, and are uncommon in Northern Ireland, but can be added, although the "NI" code is unofficial. This particular plate uses an old-style font.

Northern Ireland uses a modified version of the national system initiated for the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1903, with two-letter county and city codes featuring the letters I or Z representing Ireland. The full list of codes appears below.


As in Great Britain, each code originally ran from 1 to 9999, and when one was completed, another was allocated. All possible codes had been allocated by 1957, following which reversed sequences were introduced, the first county to do so being Antrim in January 1958 with 1 IA. These reversed sequences were completed quickly, leading to the introduction of the current "AXX 1234" format in January 1966, where "XX" is the county code and "A" is a serial letter. This format allowed capacity to be increased. Each county adopted it once they had completed their reversed sequences, the last one to do so being County Londonderry in October 1973 with AIW 1. From November 1985, the first 100 numbers of each series were withheld for use as cherished registrations. From April 1989, the numbers 101-999 were also withheld in this way. Even multiples of 1000 and 1111 ("four-of-a-kind") are deemed cherished by the DVLA and thus withheld. Each series ends at 9998 and follows on to the next letter/number combination in the series.

While motorists with vehicles registered in Great Britain are permitted by the DVLA to use number plates carrying Euro-style bands with UK national flags and country codes, officially only the European Union symbol and the "GB" country code are specified in Northern Ireland.[43] This is despite the fact that Northern Ireland, while part of the United Kingdom, is not part of Great Britain.


The administrative counties of Northern Ireland were abolished by the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972, and their responsibility for issuing registrations was transferred to the NI Ministry of Home Affairs,[44] and later the Department of the Environment NI. The former vehicle section in the county town of each local authority became a "local office" of the relevant departmental agency, formerly Driver and Vehicle Licensing Northern Ireland and latterly the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA).

From 21 July 2014, vehicle registration in Northern Ireland became the responsibility of the DVLA in Swansea. The pre-1972 format of Northern Ireland registration plates continues unchanged.[45]

County codes in alphabetical order[edit]

All the codes from IA to IZ, and from AI to WI (except for those containing G, Q, S and V, plus II), were allocated throughout the island of Ireland in 1903, in alphabetical order of counties and then of county boroughs. Hence, Antrim was allocated IA and Armagh IB, while County Dublin, now in the Republic of Ireland, was allocated IK, in between IJ for Down and IL for Fermanagh. Shortly before the partition of Ireland in 1922, Belfast completed OI and was thus allocated the next available code, XI, while YI and then ZI were allocated to Dublin City. After the partition, all codes with Z as the first letter (ZA, ZB etc.) were allocated in the Republic of Ireland, while all codes with Z as the second letter (AZ, BZ etc.) were allocated in Northern Ireland.

Code County or City Code County or City Code County or City
AZ Belfast IL Fermanagh SZ Down
BZ Down IW County Londonderry TZ Belfast
CZ Belfast JI Tyrone UI Derry
DZ Antrim JZ Down UZ Belfast
EZ Belfast KZ Antrim VZ Tyrone
FZ Belfast LZ Armagh WZ Belfast
GZ Belfast MZ Belfast XI Belfast
HZ Tyrone NZ County Londonderry XZ Armagh
IA Antrim OI Belfast YZ County Londonderry
IB Armagh OZ Belfast QNI Cars with indeterminate age, kit cars.
IG Fermanagh PZ Belfast LTZ Buses built in Northern Ireland
for Transport for London
IJ Down RZ Antrim

Series per administrative county / DVA licensing local office[edit]

For each DVA licensing local office[46] (administrative county before 1974) the two-letter sequences are shown first, followed by the reversed two-letter sequences, then the three-letter sequences.

CC number range number CC range ACC–YCC number range number range ACC–YCC
County Antrim / Ballymena
IA 1 to 9999 Dec 1903 – Mar 1932 1 to 9999 Jan 1958 – Jun 1960 1 to 9998[n 1] Jan 1966 – Jul 1985 1001 to 9998 Likely next
DZ 1 to 9999 Mar 1932 – Jan 1947 301 to 9999 Jun 1960 – Sep 1962 101 to 9998[n 2] Jul 1985 – May 1998
KZ 1 to 9999 Jan 1947 – Feb 1954 1 to 9999 Sep 1962 – Jun 1964 1001 to 9998 May 1998 – May 2010
RZ 1 to 9999 Feb 1954 – Jan 1958 501 to 9999 Jun 1964 – Jan 1966 1001 to 9998[n 3] May 2010 – current[n 4]
County Armagh / Armagh
IB 1 to 9999 Dec 1903 – Aug 1947[n 5] 301 to 9999 Apr 1962 – Nov 1965 1 to 9998 Mar 1972 – Nov 1996[n 6][n 7] 1001 to 9998 Likely next
LZ 1 to 9999 Jan 1947[n 5] – Nov 1957 1 to 9999 Nov 1965 – Mar 1969 1001 to 9998 Nov 1996 – May 2010
XZ 1 to 9999 Nov 1957 – Apr 1962 1 to 9999 Mar 1969 – Mar 1972 1001 to 9998 May 2010 – current[n 8]
Belfast County Borough / Belfast City
OI 1 to 9999 Jan 1904 – Jan 1921 1000 to 9999 Jun 1958 – Jun 1959 1 to 9999[n 9][n 10] Apr 1969 – Apr 1982
XI 1 to 9999 Jan 1921 – Feb 1928 1000 to 9999 Jun 1959 – Apr 1960 1 to 9998 Apr 1982 – Feb 1993
AZ 1 to 9999 Feb 1928 – Nov 1932 1 to 9999 Apr 1960 – Mar 1961 1001 to 9998[n 11] Feb 1993 – Mar 1999
CZ 1 to 9999 Nov 1932 – Oct 1935 1 to 9999 Mar 1961 – Apr 1962 1001 to 9998 Mar 1999 – Sep 2004
EZ 1 to 9999 Oct 1935 – Oct 1938 1 to 9999 Apr 1962 – Apr 1963 1001 to 9998 Sep 2004 – Sep 2009
FZ 1 to 9999 Oct 1938 – May 1942 1 to 9999 Apr 1963 – Jan 1964 1001 to 9998 Sep 2009 – Nov 2015
GZ 1 to 9999 May 1942 – Dec 1947 1 to 9999 Jan 1964 – Sep 1964 1001 to 9998 Nov 2015 – current[n 12]
MZ 1 to 9999 Dec 1947 – Jun 1950 1 to 9999 Sep 1964 – May 1965
OZ 1 to 9999 Jun 1950 – Jan 1953 1 to 9999 May 1965 – Mar 1966
PZ 1 to 9999 Jan 1953 – Aug 1954 1 to 9999 Mar 1966 – Jan 1967
TZ 1 to 9999 Aug 1954 – Oct 1955 1 to 9999 Jan 1967 – Oct 1967 [n 13] Mid-2013 – current
UZ 1 to 9999 Oct 1955 – Mar 1957 1 to 9999 Oct 1967[n 14] – Jun 1968
WZ 1 to 9999 Mar 1957 – Jun 1958 1 to 9999 Jun 1968 – Apr 1969
County Down / Downpatrick
IJ 1 to 9999[n 15] Dec 1903 – Apr 1930 101 to 9999 Oct 1958 – May 1961 1 to 9998[n 16][n 17] May 1967 – May 1987 1001 to 9998 Likely next
BZ 1 to 9999 Apr 1930 – Oct 1946 201 to 9999 May 1961 – Nov 1963 101 to 9998 May 1987 – Sep 2000
JZ 1 to 9999 Oct 1946 – Aug 1954 201 to 9999 Nov 1963 – Jul 1965 1001 to 9998 Sep 2000 – Nov 2016
SZ 1 to 9999 Aug 1954 – Oct 1958 1 to 9999 Jul 1965 – May 1967 1001 to 9998 Nov 2016 – current[n 18]
County Fermanagh / Enniskillen
IL 1 to 9999 Jan 1904 – Feb 1958 51 to 9999 Feb 1958 – Aug 1966 1001 to 9998[n 19][n 20][n 21] Aug 1966 – Dec 2004 1001 to 9998 Likely next
IG 1001 to 9998[n 22] Dec 2004 – current[n 23]
County Londonderry / Coleraine
IW 1 to 9999 Dec 1903 – Jan 1949 100 to 9999 Sep 1962 – Oct 1966 1 to 9998[n 24][n 25] Oct 1973 – Jul 2000
NZ 1 to 9999 Jan 1949 – Dec 1957 1 to 9999 Oct 1966 – Nov 1970 1001 to 9998 Jul 2000 – current[n 26]
YZ 1 to 9999 Dec 1957 – Sep 1962 1 to 9999 Nov 1970 – Oct 1973
Londonderry County Borough / Derry City
UI 1 to 9999 Jan 1904 – Aug 1963 100 to 9999 Aug 1963 – Apr 1973 1 to 9998[n 27][n 28][n 29] Apr 1973 – current[n 30] 1001 to 9998 Likely next
County Tyrone / Omagh
JI 1 to 9999 Dec 1903 – Feb 1944 100 to 9999 Apr 1961 – Oct 1964 1 to 9998[n 31][n 32] Jun 1971 – Dec 1999
HZ 1 to 9999 Feb 1944 – Apr 1956 200 to 9999 Oct 1964 – Mar 1968 1001 to 9998 Dec 1999 – current[n 33]
VZ 1 to 9999 Apr 1956 – Apr 1961 200 to 9999 Mar 1968 – Jun 1971
  1. ^ Authority transferred from Antrim County Council to Ballymena LVLO/VRO from 1 January 1974; the first registration following the transfer was GIA 8977.
  2. ^ BDZ ended at 7458 due to computerisation in October 1986, followed by CDZ 101.
  3. ^ ARZ was deemed inappropriate and will not be issued.[47]
  4. ^ As of March 2019 the current issue was PRZ.
  5. ^ a b Although LZ commenced in January 1947, IB was not completed until August 1947.
  6. ^ Authority transferred from Armagh County Council to Armagh LVLO/VRO from 1 January 1974; the first registration following the transfer was AIB 7786.
  7. ^ JIB ended at 4400 due to computerisation in 1986, followed by KIB 101.
  8. ^ As of November 2018 the current issue was MXZ.
  9. ^ Authority transferred from Belfast City Council to Belfast LVLO/VRO from 1 January 1974; the first registration following the transfer was GOI 8301.
  10. ^ IOI and OOI were not allocated.
  11. ^ NAZ was deemed inappropriate and will never be issued.
  12. ^ As of June 2019 the current issue was OGZ.
  13. ^ Since 2013, the LTZ series has been used by Transport for London for its New Routemaster buses, which are built in Northern Ireland.
  14. ^ A batch of reverse UZ was issued early in July 1967 for Belfast City Transport.
  15. ^ IJ 1-100 were mixed allocations to all types of vehicles, but thereafter there was a period when motorcycles were segregated in blocks; the following were the motorcycle blocks: IJ 101-150, 201-249, 301-350, 451-500, 551-600, 651-700, 751-800, 851-950, 1001-1100, 1151-1200 and 1251 up, (no information thereafter). Other vehicles took the remaining numbers, but 1000-1050 were, in fact, duplicated.
  16. ^ Authority transferred from Down County Council to Downpatrick LVLO/VRO from 1 January 1974; the first registration following the transfer was in the early FIJ series.
  17. ^ XIJ ended at 3439 due to computerisation in October 1986, followed by YIJ 101.
  18. ^ As of March 2019 the current issue was DSZ.
  19. ^ Authority transferred from Fermanagh County Council to Enniskillen LVLO/VRO from 1 January 1974; the first registration following the transfer was in the late AIL series.
  20. ^ EIL ended at 2423 due to computerisation in October 1986, followed by FIL 101.
  21. ^ KIL was deemed inappropriate and will never be issued.
  22. ^ CIG, NIG and PIG were deemed inappropriate and will never be issued.
  23. ^ As of November 2018 the current issue was UIG.
  24. ^ Authority transferred from Londonderry County Council to Coleraine LVLO/VRO from 1 January 1974; the first registration following the transfer was in the early AIW series.
  25. ^ HIW incomplete due to computerisation in October 1986 (highest normal issue unknown), followed by IIW 101.
  26. ^ As of November 2018 the current issue was YNZ.
  27. ^ Authority transferred from Londonderry County Borough Council to Londonderry LVLO/VRO from 1 January 1974; the first registration following the transfer was AUI 1110.
  28. ^ CUI ended at 7388 due to computerisation in October 1986, followed by DUI 101.
  29. ^ FUI was deemed inappropriate and will never be issued.
  30. ^ As of March 2019 the current issue was XUI.
  31. ^ Authority transferred from Tyrone County Council to Omagh LVLO/VRO from 1 January 1974; the first registration following the transfer was BJI 800.
  32. ^ JJI ended at 4700 due to computerisation in October 1986, followed by KJI 101.
  33. ^ As of November 2018 the current issue was WHZ.

Most expensive plates[edit]

As popularity grows, the prices reached for the most expensive plates have increased with many motorists attracted by the investment potential as well as vanity. In the UK, sales of private plates via the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency exceeded £100 million per annum for the first time in 2016. Since 1989 the DVLA has made a total of £2 billion from selling private plates. While the wealthy may spend more on a private plate than on their personal vehicle, not all car owners are attracted to private plates. This has not affected number plates from appreciating thousands in value each year.

Registration 1 sold for £7.25 million and is the highest price paid for a plate – in the United Arab Emirates. It was purchased by Abu Dhabi businessman Saeed Abdul Ghaffar Khouri in 2008. In 2014, the registration 25 O broke a new record[48] when it was purchased for £518,000 by Ferrari dealer John Collins; the plate now sits on a Ferrari 250 SWB once owned by rock star Eric Clapton. Registration F1 and RAC3R have been considered as the most desirable plates amongst supercar and Formula One fans. The registration RAC3R is a suffix style plate that was issued in 1976, the same year British racing driver James Hunt won the Formula One World Championship.[49] The plate covers all the different forms of racing, making it extremely desirable. Other popular plates include BO55 EGO. It has previously gone on auction in 2016 where the owner rejected the highest asking of £127,000.

The popularity of race-related plates led the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency to make a motor racing game to mark the profits it has made from the sales of private plates. The celebration took place at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2010.[50] On 25 January 2008 the registration F1 sold for £440,000 to Bradford Car design entrepreneur Afzal Kahn. The plate was previously owned and sold by Essex County Council and was sold to raise money for training young drivers. Today the F1 plate has a valuation less than the winning bid with the price tag stagnating on that particular plate. Originally the plate was affixed in 1904 to the Panhard et Levassor of the then County Surveyor.[51] A few months before the F1 plate was purchased, the S1 plate sold for £397,500 at an auction in September 2007 to an anonymous buyer, making it the second most expensive number plate to be sold in the UK. The S1 plate was originally owned by Sir John MacDonald, the Lord Kingsburgh and was Edinburgh's first ever number plate.[52] Within the space of two years the S1 plate sold for £65,500 more than the M1 plate that sold at auction in Goodwood on 7 July 2006.[53] Registrations 1D, VIP 1 (Originally a Republic of Ireland plate from Kilkenny (IP)51 NGH, K1 NGS and 1O are also marked as considerably expensive plates that have sold publicly in excess of six figures.[54]

Other formats[edit]

Armed forces vehicles[edit]

In the Second World War, vehicles of the British Army had number plates such as A12104 and those of the Royal Air Force RAF 208343. Since 1949,[55] British military vehicle registration numbers are mostly either in the form of two digits, two letters, two digits (e.g. 07 CE 08),[56] or from 1995 onwards, two letters, two digits, two letters (for example, JW 57 AB).[57] Until the mid-1980s, the central two letters signified the armed service, or the branch or category of vehicle.[58] For example, Chief of Fleet Support's staff car in 1983–85 was 00 RN 04, and First Sea Lord's car 00 RN 01 and Second Sea Lord's 00 RN 02, normal civilian plates replacing them when security required;[59] and, in 1970, one of HMS Albion's Land Rovers was 25 RN 97 and HMS Bulwark's ship's minibus was 04 RN 84. Royal Air Force vehicles had numbers such as 55 AA 89, typically the first of the two letters being A,[60] and the new-style RAF plates, such as RZ 00 AA and RU 86 AA on fire engines.[61]

Military number plates are still often in the silver/white on black scheme used for civilian plates before 1973, and can be presented in one, two or three rows of characters.

From 1963 until around 1990, in West Germany, private vehicles owned by members of British Forces Germany and their families were issued registration numbers in a unique format (initially two letters followed by three digits plus a "B" suffix, e.g. RH 249 B, then from the early 1980s three letters followed by two numbers plus the "B" suffix, e.g. AQQ 89 B). This was discontinued for security reasons, as it made them vulnerable to Provisional IRA attacks.[62] Private vehicles driven by British military personnel are now issued with either standard UK number plates (if right hand drive) or German ones (if left hand drive), although the vehicle is not actually registered with the DVLA.[63]

JW 57 AB
00 RN 04
RH 249 B
AQQ 89 B
RAF 208343

Trade plates[edit]

Reading-registered trade plate

Trade licences are issued to motor traders and vehicle testers, and permit the use of untaxed vehicles on the public highway with certain restrictions.[64] Associated with trade licences are "trade plates" which identify the holder of the trade licence rather than the vehicle they are displayed on, and can be attached temporarily to vehicles in their possession.[65]

Until 1970, two types of trade plate were used. General trade plates had white letters and numbers on a red background and could be used for all purposes, while limited trade plates used red numbers and letters on a white background and were restricted in their use (e.g. a vehicle being driven under limited trade plates was not allowed to carry passengers). Since 1970, all trade plates have used the red-on-white format. According to the traders, the police followed a little rhyme about trade plates:


The format of trade plate numbers comprises three digits (with leading zeros if necessary) followed by one, two or three letters denoting the location of issue, using pre-2001 format codes.[65]

123 ABC
123 ABC

In 2015, a new system was introduced with a number-only format. This is a five-digit number (leading zeroes used below 10000) in red on white, with a DVLA authentication at the right. This is centrally issued, and there is no regional indicator.[67]


Seen a picture recently of a new London bus being delivered on trade plates which are different to that above, so perhaps a new format: 1 letter and 4 digits (e.g. A 1234)

Diplomatic vehicle registration plates[edit]

British diplomatic car plate

Since 1979 cars operated by foreign embassies, high commissions, consulates and international organisations are issued unique vehicle registration marks. Eligible officials are required to be accredited by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) who liaise with Specialist Registrations at the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) for issuance. Guidance document: INF267 (4/18) has been produced by the DVLA for accredited officials.

The distinguishing format is three numbers, space, letter D or X, space and three numbers. The letter D is predominately used for vehicles operated in or around the capital of London with the letter X allocated to vehicles outside London and for international organisations,[citation needed] unless otherwise stated by bilateral treaty or arrangement. The first group of three numbers identifies the country or international organisation. The second group of three numbers is a serial number sequence starting at 101 for diplomats, 400 for non-diplomatic staff of international organisations, and 700 upwards for consular or other non-diplomatic staff. For example: 101 D 101 identifies the first registration allocated to the Afghanistan embassy and 900 X 400 is a registration allocated to the Commonwealth Secretariat.

101 D 101 101 D 101
900 X 400 900 X 400

Honorary consuls are not entitled under UK law to diplomatic vehicle registrations and/or diplomatic driving permits.

A limited number of "flag" registrations, bearing a similar format to earlier civilian registrations, have been issued to embassies and high commissions for use instead of a “D” or “X” registration on its vehicles. For example: United States’ embassy is allowed to use the registration USA 1; Zimbabwe's embassy ZIM 1; Jamaica's high commission JAM 1 and South Korea's embassy ROK 1 – 'Republic of Korea'. The North Korean embassy, however, had to buy a vanity plate: PRK 1D.[citation needed]

Diplomats are exempt from payment of vehicle tax (motor car road fund licence duty).

Cherished marks (personal, vanity or private number plates)[edit]

By default, a UK registration plate will accompany a vehicle throughout the vehicle's lifetime. There is no requirement to re-register a vehicle when moving to a new part of the country and no requirement that the number be changed when ownership of the vehicle changes. It is, however, possible for another registration number to be transferred, replacing the one originally issued, where owners wish to have a "vanity plate" (sometimes referred to as a "cherished" registration) displaying, for instance, their initials. Registration numbers may also be replaced simply to disguise the actual age of the vehicle.

According to information on the government DVLA website:

"Just remember you can make your vehicle look as old as you wish but you can not make it look newer than it is. For example you cannot put a Y registration number on a T registered vehicle but you could choose any prefix range from an A to a T. Each registration has an issue date which is what you must check to ensure you don't make your vehicle appear newer than it is."[68] However, you are able to put 1955 registered private number plates on a 1949 registered vehicle as there is no year indicator to determine the age of release.

As many vehicles registered before 1963 have been scrapped, some of their "dateless" pre-1963 registration numbers have been transferred to other vehicles as personal plates. They can be valuable, and can also be used to conceal the age of an older vehicle. Many vintage and classic cars no longer bear their original index marks due to the owners being offered high premiums for the desirable registrations. In addition Northern Irish registrations are also regarded as "dateless" and are often transferred to vehicles outside Northern Ireland.[69] Touring coaches often operate in other parts of the UK with registration numbers originally issued in Northern Ireland.

The DVLA's Personalised Registrations service also allows the purchase and transfer of registration numbers directly from the DVLA.[70] Many private dealers act as agents for DVLA issues (and sell DVLA numbers for more than the DVLA asking price, which many buyers do not realise), and also hold their own private stock of dateless registrations and other cherished marks. The DVLA however can only offer for sale registrations that have never previously been issued and thus have a limited offering and limited scope.

State vehicles used by the reigning monarch[edit]

Motor cars used by the reigning monarch on official business, which are (as of 2017) all Rolls-Royces or Bentleys built to special specifications, do not carry number plates.[1] The monarch's private vehicles carry number plates.

Other registration plates[edit]

  • Tax free export in 1970s had red borders around the plate.
  • United Kingdom American Exchange plates had the prefix "UKAX".
  • Some Republic of Ireland number plates have been registered in various motor tax offices in the UK. These plates dated from 1903-1986 and the UK practice of non-reregistration was discontinued in 1990.[clarification needed] For example, VIP 1 was originally registered to a Jaguar in Co. Kilkenny (IP) Ireland in 1971 but is now registered on a Rolls Royce Corniche owned by Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. Some UK embassy vehicles have I or Z in their number plates e.g. CZE (Dublin) 1, PHI (Tipperary) 1, which have originated in the Irish system. Vehicles registered in Ireland under the new system (87 onwards) and which are exported to the UK must de-register their new Irish county (or in many cases, their Irish export ZZ 5 digit plate) with the DVLA who will issue them with a new UK number.

Fraudulent use[edit]

Criminals sometimes use copies of number plates legitimately used on a vehicle of identical type and colour to the one used, known as "cloning", to avoid being identified.[71] A routine police computer check shows the plate matching the type of vehicle and does not appear suspicious.

The UK Government introduced on 1 August 2008 regulations requiring the production of personal identification and vehicle registration documents when having number plates made by a retailer.[72] The organisation that makes the plate is required to display their name and postcode, usually in small print at bottom centre, to aid in tracing false plates and their purchaser.[4] This requirement was introduced in 2001 when the new character style and two-digit year identifier came into force, and applies to all registration plates made after that date regardless of the year of the vehicle.

Registration plate suppliers[edit]

Number plates were initially made by the motor vehicle's original supplier, and replacement plates meeting standards could be made by anybody. Some people had street address numbers made up to motor-vehicle standards for their houses. From 2001 plates sold in England and Wales had to be provided by a supplier on the DVLA's Register of Number Plate Suppliers (RNPS) as specified in British Standard BSAU145d. The supplier needs to confirm that the customer is the registered keeper or other authorised person and verify their identity.[72] The name and postcode of the supplier must be shown at the bottom of the plate.[4] Number plates in the UK are usually flat and made of plastic; embossed aluminium plates are available from some suppliers. These rules are generally described as onerous, particularly to company car drivers who do not hold any of the required paperwork themselves (such items usually being stored by a fleet manager or lease hire company).

Registered number plate suppliers must keep records including the documents produced by their customers; they can be required to be shown to the police, although in reality this has seldom happened. The Department for Transport holds a full list of suppliers.[73]

Some companies, particularly those based online, sell number plates described as "show plates" or "not for road use", which may not satisfy the requirements of BSAU145d. However, if so specified, these products can be identical to number plates sold by approved RNPS registered supplier. Many of these companies do not ask customers to prove ownership of the registration they are purchasing, and try to circumvent the law by placing disclaimers on their websites. Despite these disclaimers, it is still not legal to produce any registration plates without seeing proof of identity of the purchaser (such as a driving licence), and proof of their connection to the registration (such as a V5C or retention certificate).[74]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Royal Household. "The Royal Household – Transport – Cars". Archived from the original on 14 April 2010. Retrieved 28 September 2009.
  2. ^ Vehicle registration numbers and number plates (PDF). Swansea: DVLA Specialist Registration Team. 25 February 2019. p. 11.
  3. ^ "London Transport Leyland Titan registered in 1979". Wikimedia Commons.
  4. ^ a b c d DVLA (7 July 2012). "V796: Display of Registration Marks for Motor Vehicles". Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  5. ^ "BS AU 145d:1998". British Standards Institution. 5 January 1998. ISBN 0-580-28985-0.
  6. ^ As specified in The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001 (Statutory Instrument 2001 Number 561), Schedule 2.
  7. ^ As specified in PART IV MISCELLANEOUS
  8. ^ What's the story with black and silver number plates?, DVLA, 17 November 2015
  9. ^ Lindsay Brooke. Triumph : A Century of Passion and Power. MotorBooks International. pp. 41–. ISBN 978-1-61059-227-7.
  10. ^ "Displaying number plates: Rules for number plates".
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