What Does it Mean to Have a Private Number Plate on Retention?

The 411 on the V778 dfGC

Having a private number plate on retention means you own the right to apply a certain registration number to a vehicle, even if you’re not using it right now. 

Whether you’re buying a personalised number plate to use in the future, or you’re taking one off a vehicle while you’re in between cars, retaining a number plate means you can hold onto it until you’re ready. 

Here, we’ll take you through your right to retention, the paperwork involved, and how to renew your forms so that you keep the right to use your personalised plate for as long as you want. 

What is putting a private plate on retention? 

When you buy a private number plate, you can attach it to almost any vehicle as a replacement for a standard-issue number plate. But sometimes, people find themselves with personalised number plates and no car to apply them to. 

There are lots of possible situations where someone might have a registration number they can’t use right now. 

  • They sold their previous car but kept the plates for sentimental reasons.
  • They bought plates as an investment, expecting them to gain value in the future. 
  • They inherited a number plate from someone in a will. 
  • They bought the number plate as a present for a baby to use when they turn 17 or buy their first car. 
  • They bought a plate to use on their dream car in the future.

Whatever the reason, you’ll go through the same steps if you want to retain your private plates for the future. 

How do I put my private number plate on a retention certificate?

Before you start the process of putting a personalised plate on retention, you’ll have to make sure: 

  • Your vehicle is registered with the DVLA. 
  • You can make your vehicle available to the DVLA if they decide that it needs to be inspected while they’re processing your application. This is unusual but not unheard of, especially if a previous owner made major modifications to the vehicle. 
  • You can show that your vehicle has been consistently taxed or under a SORN (statutory off road notice) for the past five years. 
  • You have a valid MOT certificate. Importantly, this also applies to classic cars that are normally exempt from the annual MOT inspection. 

If you’re taking the number plate off a vehicle to put on retention for the future, you’ll need to pay an £80 “assignment fee” when you make your application. 

And you’ll also need your VC5 forms to hand. This is also called the car’s logbook. If you can’t find it, you’ll have to apply for a replacement before you can make any changes to your car’s registration number. A new logbook costs £25. 

And if you’re wondering, “can I put my private number plate on retention online?” the answer is yes, you can. Putting a personalised number plate on retention is one of many jobs you can do online through the government website

If you choose to put the number plate on retention by post, rather than online, the form you need is the V317. This is the “Application to transfer or retain a vehicle registration number”.  

The terminology on this form can be a little confusing because it asks you to fill in information about three separate people: 

  • The registered keeper. This is you, the person who owns the vehicle the number plate is currently attached to.
  • The grantee. The grantee has the right to assign a number plate to a vehicle. This can be you or the person you’re passing the plate on to. 
  • The nominee. If you want to put the number plate on someone else’s car (for example, as a surprise gift), they are the nominee. 

Once you’ve filled out the forms online or sent them by post, wait for a confirmation that you’ve successfully put the number plate on retention. You’ll get a V778 form (also called a retention document) with details of the number plate being retained and the name of the person who has the right to assign it to a vehicle in the future. 

What happens when you put a private plate on retention? 

A couple of things need to happen when you put a personalised number plate on retention for the future. 

1. Your car gets a new number plate

All cars on the road need to have a registration number for tax and insurance purposes, so if you remove a private number plate to put on retention, you’ll also need to make sure that the vehicle gets a new number plate. This could be a new personalised plate or the car’s original number plate. 

If you need to have a new number plate made—for example, if you want to put the original registration number back on the car—check the gov.uk website. You’ll be able to input your postcode to find a list of registered number plate suppliers near you (usually a local garage). Not all suppliers can make all kinds of plates, so it’s best to give them a call to talk about your requirements for your new plates. 

2. You update your insurance and other accounts

It’s also important to update your insurance when you change the number plate on a car, otherwise your insurance might not be valid if you have an accident. 

You’ll also have to update your accounts in any place which uses ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) technology to pay tolls or fees—for example, in some car parks, for the Dart Charge on the Dartford crossing, for the Tyne Tunnel, or to drive in low emission zones or pay congestion charge in cities like London.

Once you’ve taken care of these tasks, you’re free to store your personalised number plates and drive around on your car’s updated plates.  

Renewing your right to retention

You have to renew your right to retain a private plate every ten years. This period is actually longer than it was before March 2015. This means that almost everyone with a personalised plate now has a new certificate which is valid for ten years.

When it’s time to renew your right to retain a personalised number plate, you need either a new V778 form or a new V750 form. You’ll have a V778 if you swapped your car’s original number plate for a personalised plate, and a V750 if you put a personalised plate on a new car which had never had another registration. 

It’s reassuring to know that the DVLA should send you a reminder by email or post when it’s time to renew—usually in the final month before the old form runs out. You can then renew online. Before 2015, there was a £25 charge to keep a plate on retention, but it’s now free. The new certificate will last for another ten years. 

But if you don’t renew your V750 or V778 before the old certificate runs out, you lose all rights to use the personalised plate. The DVLA is very rigid on the deadline, and there’s no way to renew your right to a plate once you’ve let it lapse. 

It’s especially important to keep on top of renewals if you have a number plate you want to use or give as a gift in the future. For example, if you buy one to reflect a baby’s name when they’re born, you’ll have to renew it at least once before they learn to drive. 

It’s also vital to keep your V750 or V778 forms up to date throughout the time when you’re retaining the plate. You should update your name or address on your V750 or V778 form whenever it changes, just as you would with your driving licence. 

For example, it’s normal for the DVLA to send you a reminder letter about four weeks before your retention form expires. But to get a renewed form to cover the next ten years, the details have to be up to date. If you’ve changed your name or address without updating the V750 or V778, you’ll have to update the form before you can apply for your renewal. And since it can take 3–4 weeks for updated copies to be delivered, you’d be cutting it very fine if you wanted to hold onto your right to use your personalised plates.

Having a private number plate on retention: final thoughts 

If you’re not ready to say goodbye to a personalised number plate just yet, or if you’re saving one up for your dream car in the future, it’s easy to apply to store the registration number until you’re ready to use it. You’ll automatically have ten years to think about what you want to do next, and, as long as you keep on top of the renewals, you could potentially hold onto a meaningful or valuable number plate for decades. 

Whatever you choose to do with your personalised plates, make sure that the vehicle you’re driving has a valid registration number and be sure to keep the DVLA and your insurer in the loop. 

Also read:
Your Guide to Number Plate Retention
L plates and P plates – the rules
New Driving Laws in The UK 2023-2024 (Full Guide)