French licence swap leaves Briton unable to drive €100,000 campervan

He is taking his case to France’s rights defender

Tim Hall wants to sleep in his soon-to-be-delivered €100,000 campervan as he follows the Tour de France (campervan photo as illustration)
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A retired British man has taken a case to France’s rights defender because he is unable to use his new €100,000 La Strada campervan after swapping to a French licence.

Former IT worker Tim Hall, 68, who moved to Savoie in 2020, applied to exchange his UK licence, attaching a medical certificate to prove continued competency to drive heavier vehicles. However, the French licence he received lacked the heavy C and D categories.

Officials told him it is because he had been given these automatically with his driving licence – as was usual in the UK before 1997 – and France does not recognise categories acquired without a specific test.

He said: “I like to follow the Tour de France and wanted to be able to sleep overnight in the camping car. It is a German make, 6.4m, and cost over €100,000. I’m expecting delivery of it soon.”

Read more: Driving: When do you need to swap foreign licence for French licence?

UK/France licence agreement

A UK/France agreement on licence swaps was signed in 2021 although no copy of the agreement has been made publicly available.

Under this, UK licences first issued before Brexit are essentially treated the same as EU licences. It states, among other points, that older UK licences must be swapped for a French one if they are nearing expiry, which was the case for Mr Hall.

Read more: ‘Running our Normandy camper van site is a holiday that never ends’

The rule against categories acquired automatically is not stated on French official websites we consulted. They do list information that all categories of a UK licence are exchangeable. 

Mr Hall’s last UK licence was in a standardised EU ‘credit card’ format, with the same letter categories used across the bloc, which might not be the case with old paper UK licences.

Taking a French C1 test would require 28 hours of lessons and sitting a theory test in French, which he does not wish to do as he believes the refusal is not justified by French or EU laws. 

The Défenseur des Droits service, which he read about in The Connexion, has agreed to take up his case. 

He said there was no notification of a potential issue during the swap application. Instead, it asked if he wanted to retain the categories and then requested a medical certificate.

“There is European case law that EU states must recognise validity of all categories of other EU countries’ licences,” he said, adding it is illogical that he could drive all over the EU on his UK licence but must lose categories to exchange it.

France’s driving authorities did not wish to comment.