Prefecture returns driving licence applications

SOME drivers applying to change a British licence to a French licence before Brexit have received letters saying their dossiers will not be processed and will be returned to them. This is despite UK government advice to Britons to seek an exchange.

In view of uncertainty over whether Britain will leave the EU with or without a Brexit deal at the end of this month, the UK government recently warned of potential difficulties with driving on a British – by that point non-EU – licence after Brexit, saying “you should consider exchanging your UK driving licence for an EU driving licence as soon as possible; increased demand may lead to longer processing times and delays to exchanging licences the closer it is to March 29, 2019”. 

However the CERT EPE at Nantes, which has already experienced heavy demand and prolonged delays since it was charged with all foreign licence exchanges in September 2017, now says it will return any applications that do not fall into certain obligatory categories such as where you have committed a driving offence requiring removal of points in the French licence system, or where your British licence has reached its expiration date, or the British licence has been stolen or lost. On a website it says Britons will need to be ‘patient’ while waiting for post-Brexit rules to be clarified. This is despite the fact that it is normally a right under French law to voluntarily request exchange of a European licence.

The CERT EPA (Centre d’Expertises et des Ressources des Titres – Echange des Permis Etrangers) is based at Nantes prefecture. Prefecture second-in-command Serge Boulanger told Connexion at the end of January that if they had British applications that had not been finalised by Brexit day “precedence for the applications will be taken into account according to the arrangements that will be agreed between the two states”.

Potential complications after Brexit could include the fact that applications for exchange of non-EU licences require additional documents, however Connexion has asked why the prefecture is now returning applications rather than waiting and asking for extra documents if necessary.

In a ‘deal’ scenario, Britons would keep the right to apply under EU citizen rules until the end of 2020.

In a no-deal scenario the rules are as yet less clear. Usually if a person comes to live in France with a non-EU driving licence it is valid for one year, however the situation of Britons in France, whose licences will change from EU to ‘non-EU’ licences overnight, is unprecedented.

In a question and answer session on Facebook on Friday, asked if it is advisable to apply for a carte de séjour or to exchange driving licences, Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau said: “Today it’s not clear what Brexit scenario we will have [deal or no-deal] and it would be tempting to wait.

“We have taken it into consideration and have passed orders than give the British living in France a grace period after a no-deal Brexit to undertake the procedures they would need to carry out, such as asking for a resident’s card or exchanging their driving licence. Since one could not continue to drive for a long time with a driving licence that is only British if you are a resident in France.”

It is not clear what the grace period would be but if it is the same as for residency cards it would be expected to be one year.

In a letter to a reader which has been shown to Connexion, returning their application for exchange, the CERT EPE director said that in the case of no-deal the government would take legal steps to allow Britons living in France on March 29, 2019 to continue to drive legally in France temporarily. The letter also invited the reader to send an email to cert-pc-epe-44-BREXIT@interieur.gouv.fr to keep informed about changes in the rules.

The CERT EPE also advises Britons to consult the Interior Ministry’s Brexit information pages here and here.

In a brief email to Connexion Mr Boulanger has referred to not wishing to exchange thousands of European licences now if only to have to exchange them again after Brexit, however Connexion has queried what was meant by this as we are not aware that a French licence for a European driver is different from a French licence for a non-European.

In summer 2018 Mr Boulanger said exchanges had been taking up to seven months and they were working to reduce it to three or four by recruiting and training more staff.

The process involves sending an application form and supporting documents (not including the original British licence). The prefecture then sends back an attestation de dépôt (proof of application), valid up to a year, then the British licence is posted to the prefecture so as to finalise issue of a new French one.

This postal process via Nantes replaced a previous system where people visited their own local prefectures or sous-préfectures to apply for an exchange.

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