Vehicle Tax Disc as an Information Artefact

From the 1st October 2014 road users in the UK are no longer required to display a vehicle tax disc.  The information artefact was previously used to demonstrate that the vehicle excise duty had been paid.

An information artefact is a physical object (such as a book, photograph or file) or a virtual object (such as a software icon or computer file) that is embedded with information.  The value of the information artefact may be derived from its information content, however, the artefact may also have an intrinsic value (such as an original painting or first edition of a book).  There is a growing market for original tax discs from velogists (tax disc collectors).

Information artefacts can also have significance as cultural artefacts demonstrating information about a society at a particular point in time.  The requirement to display tax discs on vehicles using public roads in the UK dates back to 1921.  It reflected the increase in the number of motor vehicles on the roads (and the subsequent wear-and-tear to road surfaces), the ability to identify a vehicle (1903) and the development of a means to calculate tax based on a vehicle’s engine size (as opposed to the number of wheels).

The tax disc was a visual indicator that the vehicle excise duty had been paid and the expiry date provided a visual reminder of when the tax disc needed to be renewed.  The discs included the following information:

  • Vehicle registration mark.
  • Vehicle class.
  • Vehicle make.
  • Period of taxation.
  • Fee paid.
  • Post office stamp, date of issue, and the initials of issuing teller.

The design of the disc changed through its history, reflecting changes in taxation requirements and including features to assist with forgery detection.  More recently this included the addition of barcodes and holograms to the discs but the production of fraudulent tax discs is not a recent activity.  In the early 1960s the expiry date had to be printed twice on discs in response to people creating fraudulent tax discs using amended Guiness bottle labels.

In the digital age, it is no longer necessary for a physical visual information artefact to be displayed in order to demonstrate proof of payment.  However, the demise of the tax disc results in the loss of cultural and historic information about changes in society.

In addition, there remains the question about what to do with the now empty tax disc holder forever stuck on the left-hand corner of vehicle windscreens.  Police in Malvern have suggested that the tax disc holders could be used to display emergency contact information and medical alert information.  An information template can be downloaded here:

Alternatively, replica tax discs are available from:

A coloured paper disc is no longer needed to provide vehicle excise information but information artefacts are more than information stores; they have a role in society.  Enforcement officers can access the digital information stored about a vehicle but the physical disc provided a visual alert that something may be wrong, if for example, the registration number on the disc differed to that of the vehicle on which it was displayed.  The loss of the physical information artefact restricts access to information, reducing the role of society in self-management and moving enforcement to chase tax evaders through potentially conflicting and incomplete information in the digital realm.


Further Reading: information artefacts are discussed in Chapter 1 and Chapter 3.

Please use the following to reference this blog post in your own work:

Cox, S. A., (2014), ‘Vehicle Tax Disc as an Information Artefact’, 31 October 2014,, [Date accessed: dd:mm:yy]


© 2014 Sharon A Cox