Big Issue vendor Earl John Charlton has finally secured a provisional driving licence from the DVLA – after using his My Pitch articles to prove who he was.
The Newcastle Central Station vendor spent 25 years street homeless, meaning that he had never had any photo identification – neither a passport or driving licence – and didn’t even have his birth certificate.
The 41-year-old started selling The Big Issue around nine years ago in London and continued after moving back to his native north-east of England and now wants to offer cashless payments to his customers.
I nearly cried when it arrived, I couldn’t believe it, although the photo on it doesn’t do me justice – if you put it on the front door then you would never get burgled!
But getting a card reader required a bank account, which in turn required photo ID that Earl didn’t have.
So he applied to the DVLA on February 12 but was told that more historic proof of his identity was required – but with no employment history, no school qualifications as he left education at 14 and no national insurance number as he didn’t have the card, Earl was left with few options.
The Big Issue helped the vendor obtain proof of the latter from HMRC and he was able to reapply to the DVLA who told him that he would receive his licence in two weeks.
But he was later told that the driving body required more information after calling the DVLA helpline and it was then that he told the assistant over the phone to google his full name.
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
That search turned up two Big Issue My Pitch articles that had been written about Earl in the last three years and that proved enough to secure him a licence.
And the Newcastle vendor admitted that he was emotional at finally receiving the provisional licence in the post on June 24 bringing his four-month struggle to an end.
“I nearly cried when it arrived, I couldn’t believe it, although the photo on it doesn’t do me justice – if you put it on the front door then you would never get burgled!” Earl told The Big Issue. “But now I have my first driving lesson on Thursday because one of my regular customers is a driving instructor. So you can see how big things can come out of such a small thing.
“Without that Google search I don’t think I’d have got my licence so if I was homeless without being a Big Issue vendor then I wouldn’t have had a hope in hell’s chance.”
As well as getting behind the wheel for the first time, Earl is planning to use his photo ID to improve his job prospects and has been circulating his CV with firms in the railway station where he sells the magazine.
He is also hoping that this is the latest step towards dream career of becoming a drug and alcohol misuse worker.
But Earl insists that a lack of ID continues to hold back many people on the streets.
“It’s not just me in this situation – there’s thousands of us out there who lived the life I did,” he said.
“When I was homeless I got turned away from a polling station in London when I went to vote in the EU referendum because I had no address. And then to find out that I wasn’t even classed as part of the population was deflating, especially when you are trying to sort your life out, it’s demoralising as well.
“When you are trying to move forward and you’ve jumped through all the hoops, it felt like a reinforced wall that I didn’t think I was going to get through.”
The DVLA advises that an identity document, three years’ worth of addresses and a national insurance number is required to get a provisional driving licence.