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Displaying Number Plates: Spacing Law

UK law governs the correct way to display vehicle licence plates on a car or a motorbike. This guide explains the rules for displaying number plates and where to get plates made up.

VEHICLE LICENCE PLATES UK: Number plates are often called licence plates. They get used to display unique vehicle registration.

A standard motorcycle or car number plate combines several letters and a few numbers. They are set out and spaced in a specific sequence.

You must not rearrange or alter them if doing so makes the letters and numbers difficult to read.

Purpose of Vehicle Registration Numbers

The purpose of displaying vehicle registration number plates is for identification. It provides a method of identifying all cars, trucks, and motorbikes in the United Kingdom.

The UK Secretary of State owns all vehicle registration numbers. They get allocated as part of a legal process for registering and taxing vehicles.

In fact, a registration number gets given to the vehicle – not the registered keeper. The identifier stays with that vehicle until it gets broken up, completely scrapped, or exported permanently out of the United Kingdom.

An exception could be when the registered keeper transfers the registration to a different vehicle or ‘keeps the right to use it‘.

Note: Driving with incorrectly displayed number plates could result in a fine up to £1,000. It also means your car will fail the MOT test.

Number Plate Rules

The end of 2001 saw the current number plate rules and format introduced for vehicle registration. The three part format for acrylic number plates consists of:

  1. Local Memory Tag: 2 letters which refer to the office where the number got issued.
  2. Age Identifier: 2 numbers inform you of the date when it got issued.
  3. Random Element: 3 letters get chosen at random to complete the format.

Theft Resistant Number Plates

Some licence plate manufacturers now make theft resistant number plates. The design means they break apart any time they are forcibly removed from a vehicle.

This makes it more difficult for a criminal to remove them from a vehicle in a hurry. In turn, that reduces the risk of stolen index plates getting used in a secondary crime.

Displaying Number Plates Rules for Vehicle Registration in the UKThe law states that when you are displaying vehicle registration number plates they should:

  • Be made from a reflective material.
  • Display black characters on a white background (front plate).
  • Display black characters on a yellow background (rear plate).
  • Not have a background pattern.

Note: You can also get private (personalised) number plates.

Motorbike Number Plate Rules (tricycle)

The current number plate rules for motorcycles and motor tricycles are for those registered on or after the 1st of September 2001. They must display a correct number plate but ‘only one’ and at the rear of the bike.

Different licence plate regulations apply to motorbikes or motor tricycles registered before 1st of September 2001. In this case you can choose to display a number plate at the front of the bike along with one at the rear.

Note: Motorcycle and motor tricycle number plate numbers should get placed on two (2) separate lines.

Number Plates Rules Towing a Trailer

Number plates rules for towing a trailer state that your trailer must display the same licence plate as the vehicle that you are using to tow it.

In some cases you may be towing more than one trailer. Thus, the identifying plate must get fixed to the trailer furthest back of any others.

Number Plate Spacing Rules: Letter, Size, and Style

The number plate law for letter characters, size measurement, and spacing must comply with document INF104. Even so, displaying plates with characters in 3D is not illegal.

  • You must display a number plate on the front and rear of your vehicle.
  • Letters should be black on a white plate at the front.
  • Letters should be black on a yellow plate at the rear.
  • The background surface should be reflex-reflecting, but not the display letters.
  • Number plates should meet the British Standard.
  • Character height 79mm (fitted from the 1st of September 2001).
  • Character width 50mm except the number ‘1’ or the letter ‘I’ (fitted from the 1st of September 2001).
  • Character stroke (thickness of black print) must be 14mm.
  • Character height 89mm group 1 and 79mm for group 2 (fitted before 1st of September 2001).
  • Character width 64mm (group 1 fitted before 1st of September 2001).
  • Space between characters must be 11mm (including the margins at the top, bottom, and side of the plate).
  • Space between the age identifier and the random letters must be 33mm.

Note: Vehicles made before the 1st of January 1973 may display the traditional ‘black and white’ number plates (e.g. using white, silver, or grey characters).

Getting Number Plates Made

The law says you can only use a registered number plate supplier to get vehicle licence plates made up.

A number plate supplier will need to see some original documentation proving your name and address. The V5 vehicle registration certificate shows you can use that particular licence number.

You can also use any of the following documents to confirm your name and address:

  • Driving licence or national identity card.
  • Council Tax, utility, or rates bill from the last 6 months.
  • Bank or building society statement from the last 6 months.

The following documents only confirm your name (not address):

  • Passport (can be those issued outside the United Kingdom).
  • Bank or building society debit or credit card.
  • Police warrant card.
  • Armed forces identity card.

Proving You Can Use the Registration Number

You must take at least one of the following documents to show you have the legal right to display the registration number:

  • Vehicle registration certificate (V5C or V5CNI).
  • New keeper supplement (V5C/2 or V5C/2NI).
  • Certificate of entitlement (V750 or V750NI) to the number.
  • Retention document (V778) – not applicable in Northern Ireland.
  • A renewal reminder for vehicle tax or Statutory Off Road Notification (V11 or V11NI).
  • Temporary registration certificate (V379 or V379NI).
  • A number plate authorisation certificate (V948) with an official stamp from the DVLA or DVSA.
  • An electronic number plate authorisation certificate (eV948).
  • A letter of authorisation from a fleet operator (including lease or hire company) quoting the document reference number from the registration certificate.
  • If your fleet is in the new V5C on demand scheme (also called ‘V5C suppression’), a PDF of the vehicle details from the view vehicle record service.

Legal Number Plates Flags (symbols and identifiers)

Flags and National Identifying Letters

You can legally display one of the following United Kingdom flags with identifying letters. But, the flag symbol must be printed on the left-hand side of the number plate:

  • Union Flag
  • Cross of St George
  • Cross of St Andrew (also called the Saltire)
  • Red Dragon of Wales

Law for Displaying Number Plates UK

There are certain display letters, or national identifiers, that comply with UK number plate rules and they are:

  • GREAT BRITAIN (Great Britain or GB)
  • UNITED KINGDOM (United Kingdom or UK)
  • CYMRU (Cymru, CYM or Cym)
  • ENGLAND (England, ENG, or Eng)
  • SCOTLAND (Scotland, SCO or Sco)
  • WALES or Wales

The flag must get printed above the identifier. Having the flag or letters on the number plate margin does not comply with the law for displaying vehicle number plates. Neither the flag nor the identifier can be more than 50 millimeters wide.

Note: You may need to display a GB or UK sticker when travelling outside the United Kingdom (this rule excludes Ireland).

New Number Plate Rules from September 2021

If you travel outside the United Kingdom (Great Britain and Northern Ireland) after the 28th of September 2021, you must be displaying a UK sticker on the rear of the vehicle if the number plate has (any):

  • GB identifier with the Union flag (i.e. the Union Jack)
  • Euro symbol
  • National flag of England, Wales, or Scotland
  • Only numbers and letters (e.g. no flag or identifier)

As a rule, you do not need to display a UK sticker if the registration plates already contain the UK identifier with the Union flag (e.g. the Union Jack).

Note: You would need to display a UK sticker in Cyprus, Malta, and Spain. Thus, you should either cover up or remove the GB sticker if you have it displayed.

Rules for Displaying Vehicle Registration Number Plates in the United Kingdom