THE Driving Standards Agency has spent at least £4.3m on private investigators in a bid to crack down on test cheats, official figures have revealed.
The agency responsible for practical and theory driving tests says it spent £4,307,025 on “enquiry agents” over 18 months in an attempt to catch impersonators and other cheats.
The private detectives used covert surveillance videos and still photographs to catch fraudsters, as well as extensive interviewing.
The DSA, in response to a Freedom of Information request, said between May 2010 and December last year it received almost 5000 notifications of suspected criminal activity.
A total of 511 arrests were made leading to 141 convictions and 163 police cautions across England, Scotland and Wales.
A spokesman for the DSA admitted that agency staff had been targeted.
He said: “Most of these arrests will be made in relation to impersonation, with a few relating to bribery investigations on DSA staff.”
The DSA said it continues to employ private investigators to catch driving test cheats, spending in the region of £270,000 a month.
The agency says the money is spent with the aim of “ensuring public confidence” and to make sure that the “integrity of the process of such investigations is maintained”.
Andrew Howard, Head of Road Safety at the AA agreed the spending was “essential” to crack down on fraudsters.
“I fully understand why this is happening,” he said.
“The need for investigation is there as impersonation is an area over which there is growing concern.
“There has to be an adequate deterrent so that the people doing it are getting caught. This is the right thing to do.”
He added: “Impersonation is a dangerous thing which can put a lot of drivers’ lives at risk. The DSA need to get the message across that the criminals involved will get caught.
“In many cases it will be a ring of criminals who are being paid to take tests for people. More often than not, it might be the same person taking the tests over and over again.”
Mr Howard added that the investigations play an important role in maintaining the public’s confidence in the testing system.
“It’s incredibly important that people have confidence in taking their tests. The test is run by the state and it must be run fairly.”
But a spokeswoman for the Tax Payers Alliance disagreed.
She said: “If they suspect something criminal is going on, then the DSA should call the police, not bring in pricey private investigators.
“This is a strange and costly response to the problem and it would save taxpayers’ money if they stopped this altogether.”
A number of high-profile impersonation cases have been revealed in the past involving driving fraud.
In February 2011, four men who hired an impersonator to take their driving theory tests were jailed for six months having paid £500 for the criminal to take their tests for them.
Sami Hamadok, Ahmed Omar, Kayfee Hameed and Agar Hamid each paid £400 to £500 for the impostor to sit the test for them in a Middlesbrough test centre.
And in June 2011, a Somali bus driver Deeg Mohammed, 27, was jailed for impersonating over 200 individuals across the country.
The bus driver took the tests using the applicants’ provisional driving licences and the examiners failed to realise that he was not the person in the photograph.
Of the 200 drivers he impersonated, police could only trace only 15 of the illegal drivers.
He charged £500 a time for the service and carried it out across Britain, making more than £100,000 before he was caught.