Last updated December 23, 2022
There is often confusion around what it means to be the registered keeper or the owner of a car. The roles of ‘registered keeper’ and ‘owner’ both have different legal obligations and responsibilities attached to them – and when buying or selling a car, it is important to understand both clearly.
In this guide, we will clearly define both terms and how they differ from one another. We’ll also explain how to find the registered keeper for a specific vehicle – and the processes for changing the owner and registered keeper for your vehicle.
The registered keeper of a car in the UK is defined as ‘the person who is responsible for the vehicle and has the right to use it’. This can be either the owner or hirer of the car, depending on the circumstances in which they are using it. The most common situation where this applies is when someone buys a car from a seller – and they then become its official keeper.
In this instance, the name on any legal documents relating to the car, such as the registration papers and vehicle ownership certificates will belong to them until they decide to sell the vehicle or transfer ownership. It is important to note that while they may not yet own the car outright, they are still named as the registered keeper, because they have been given rights over its use and maintenance by law.
The legal owner of a car in the UK is whoever has registered the vehicle with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). This person will be responsible for keeping all documentation up to date and ensuring that any road tax due on the vehicle is paid. It’s also important to note that just because someone has bought or leased a vehicle, they are not automatically considered to be its legal owner. To be recognised as such, they must register the car in their own name with the DVLA.
While it’s common for the registered keeper and the owner of a car to be the same person, this isn’t always the case. Company car schemes are a good example: the employee is the registered keeper of the car but the owner - and therefore the one with most of the legal obligations, is the employer who organises the company car scheme. This means that while the employee is free to drive the vehicle (and must maintain its insurance compliance), the employer is the one with the legal rights and responsibilities.
The simplest way to prove that you are the owner of a car is by presenting your original vehicle registration document, the V5C logbook. This document will include your name, address - and other details about your car. This can also be used as evidence if you need to make an insurance claim.
Additionally, if you own a company car, having the original invoice or purchase order will help to prove ownership. If neither of these are available or you never received a V5C logbook, you should apply for a replacement by submitting a V62 form to the DVLA.
You can request details of a vehicle’s registered keeper from the DVLA by completing a V888 form. However, the DVLA will only release information about the registered keeper of a vehicle if you have ‘reasonable cause’ to request these details - for example, if you need to find out who was responsible for an accident or need to trace the registered keeper of an abandoned vehicle.
You should never submit a V888 with a false reason for your information request, as you are asked to sign a declaration of accurate information at the bottom of the form, which is a legal declaration that you have answered accurately.
It is possible to insure a car that you don’t legally own. However, you must inform your chosen insurer that you are not the vehicle’s owner or registered keeper when applying.
The type of insurance you’ll need depends on why and how you plan to use the vehicle. If it's for personal use, then you will usually need a standard form of car insurance such as third-party only or fully comprehensive. However, if the car is being used commercially, a specialist business motor insurance policy may be needed.
Put simply, the registered keeper of a car is the person who drives the vehicle and generally has the vehicle in their possession, while the owner of the car is the person who purchased the vehicle and registered it with the DVLA.
As an example, a parent might purchase a vehicle for their child as a present once they’re legally able to drive. In this instance, the parent is the owner (even though they do not intend to drive the car themselves) – and their child is the registered keeper.
When you intend to change the registered keeper of your car, you’ll need to notify the DVLA. The process to follow can vary slightly, depending on whether you wish to change the registered keeper to a private individual or a car dealer.
If your car is changing hands following a private deal, you are legally obligated to change its registered keeper. This requires the new keeper to complete section 6 of the V5C certificate; this process is known as a ‘V5 transfer’.
The simplest and fastest way to change a vehicle’s registered keeper is online, through the gov.uk website. This service is available between 7am and 7pm daily – and the DVLA’s records should be updated instantly, once you have notified them of the new registered keeper.
You can also change the registered keeper by posting your V5C to the DVLA. Before sending the document, you should tick the ‘new keeper box’. Both the former and new registered keepers must sign and date the V5C certificate before it is sent.
The new keeper should also complete the green slip (also known as a V5C/2) on section 10 of the certificate and retain this document until they have received a new V5C with their details.
If you need to change the registered keeper after selling to a car dealer, both parties will need to sign section 9 of the V5C certificate (also known as a V5C/3). You should then hand the V5C to the car dealer.
The dealer should notify the DVLA that they are the new registered keeper – and you, the seller, should receive an acknowledgement by post within four weeks. After selling your car, you should cancel your vehicle tax via the gov.uk website. You should receive a refund from the DVLA for any full months’ unused car tax.
You can change the owner of your vehicle by completing a form on the DVLA website. To complete the process, you’ll need to provide the new owner’s details – and the 11-digit reference number from the vehicle’s V5C. You should receive a confirmation email following submission.
When you take out a loan or finance package to buy a car, the lender will become the legal owner of the vehicle until you have made all the necessary payments and ownership is transferred to you. This means that if there were any issues with the payments on your loan, then technically speaking, the lender could repossess your car. However, most lenders will not do this unless it's absolutely necessary.
To trace the owner of a car by registration number, you’ll need to fill out a V888 form and send this to the DVLA. However, you’ll need to provide ‘reasonable cause’ for your information request, such as requiring these details for legal reasons.
If your request is successful, you should receive the information within four weeks.