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What Does A Number Plate On Retention Mean?

It might seem like an unusual idea, but it’s possible to own a car number plate but no car. There are many reasons this might happen. For example, if your vehicle needs to be scrapped and your number plate has sentimental value, or even retail value if it’s personalised, you might opt to hang onto it and either assign it to your new car or sell it on for a profit later. Alternatively, you may buy a car registration and choose to put it on retention for later use.

Many people purchase number plates in the UK as investments, sometimes buying and selling plates without ever owning a vehicle themselves. Others buy them as gifts for friends and family.

If you’re wondering ‘what does a number plate on retention mean?’, then read on for some answers and further information on registrations kept on certificate.

Number plates on retention

If you want to buy a number plate but don’t have a car yet, or wish to keep a number plate to use later or sell, you can put it on retention. Instead of being used on a vehicle, your registration will be printed on a certificate that states you’re entitled to use it.

Putting your plate on retention when your car needs to be scrapped

When a car is no longer fit for the road and becomes unsafe to yourself and other road users, or its running costs from constant repairs are more expensive than the vehicle’s value, you may decide to scrap it. However, you might wish to keep the registration of that vehicle.

Plates are retained for a wide range of reasons. For example, personalised registrations that car owners have paid sizeable sums of money for are unlikely to be crushed along with the vehicles that they are displayed on. These plates can be kept to sell on or assign to a new vehicle.

If you want to keep your car number plate prior to scrapping, you must apply to the DVLA beforehand. For a fee of £80, you can either assign your number plate to a new car or put it on retention. You can keep it this way until you come to a decision on what you wish to do with it.

How long can you keep a number plate on retention?

The length of time a car registration number can be kept on a certificate without assigning it to a vehicle is 10 years. At this point, it must either be assigned to a vehicle or an application for an extension must be made. By extending the certificate in the way every 10 years, number plates can be held on retention indefinitely. 

Number plates bought as a gift

Personalised number plates can make a unique and bespoke gift for your family members or friends. If the recipient doesn’t have a car yet, for example if they are learning to drive, you can still purchase them a private number plate on certificate for them to use when they pass their test and get a vehicle. When they do get a car, you’ll need the vehicle’s V5C registration document and the certificate in order to assign the registration to them through the DVLA.

Buying a number plate on retention

Many who trade in number plates will have registrations on certificate to sell. If you purchase a number plate on retention, be wary of who you are dealing with. Choosing a reputable dealer to help with the buying process is always a good idea.

Other related FAQs

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Yes. The most likely reason for this is you've bought a new car and want to move your personal number plate over to your new vehicle. This is a relatively simple process and can be done through the DVLA website.

Current DVLA guidelines state that a number plate can stay on retention for a maximum of 10 years before needing to be renewed. The retention fee is £80, but renewals are free and don’t take long to process.

Number plate retention lasts for 10 years or until you use the plate on a vehicle, whichever comes first. After 10 years, you must renew your retention certificate if you still have no vehicle to assign your number plate to.

To take a private number plate off retention, you need documents including the V778 retention document, the V5 registration document for the receiving vehicle and an MOT certificate if your vehicle requires one.

A retention certificate for a number plate is an official DVLA form confirming that you are the legal owner of that plate. It allows you to keep or purchase a number plate without assigning it to a vehicle.

If you want to sell a private number plate or reserve it for future use, you can do so via the DVLA. As long as certain conditions are met, you can pay to obtain a V778 retention document.