If you're planning to hire a car either here in the UK or abroad you may need to show a code from today, as the paper counterpart of photocard driving licences is being replaced with a new online system.

MoneySavingExpert.com first warned motorists about this change, which affects those with English, Welsh and Scottish driving licences, a few months ago.

Those with driving licences issued by the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland are unaffected and still require both the plastic photocard and paper counterpart.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) says the move will save motorists millions of pounds and change the way they share their information with employers and car hire companies. However, the AA says there is "widespread confusion as to what drivers now need to do to stay within the law".

Here's our Q&A on what's happening. See our Cheap Car Hire guide for more help cutting £100s off holiday hire and insurance costs.

What's changing?

What's changing depends on when you passed your driving test, here's what you need to know:

  • I passed my driving test after 1998

Anyone who passed their driving test after 1998 has a photocard driving licence and a paper counterpart. The paper part of the licence shows any points you may have received for breaking the rules – for example, being caught driving faster than the speed limit.

Drivers can check their record on Gov.uk, but from today points will be stored online and not added to the paper licence, rendering it useless.

This means if you're hiring a car or need to provide your employer with evidence of your driving record, you may be asked for a code, which gives car hire companies or employers up to 72 hours to check your history (see below for how to get one).

  • I passed my driving test before 1998

If you passed your driving test before 1998, you'll only have a paper driving licence, unless you've renewed after this date and now have a photocard licence plus a paper counterpart.

However, if you're one of 8.7 million drivers who have a traditional paper driving licence only, don't throw this away, as it's different from the photocard paper counterpart and is still valid as your driving licence.

In this scenario, points will also be recorded online instead of on paper from today. This also means if you're hiring a car or need to provide your employer with evidence of your driving record, you may be asked for a code, which gives car hire companies or employers up to 72 hours to check your history (see below for how to get one).

I'm hiring a car, when do I need to request a code?

Codes are valid for 72 hours, meaning those travelling abroad will have plan ahead and request an access code for the company from the DVLA. You'll need to be mindful of journey times and time differences.

How do I request a code?

You can request a code via the new Share Driving Licence online service at Gov.uk, or by calling the DVLA on 0300 083 0013.

You will need to provide your driving licence number found on your photocard (or on your paper driving licence for paper-only motorists), National Insurance number and the postcode on your driving licence.

You will also be able to download a PDF of their licence, which will be worth taking as a precaution, but you will still need a code as well.

Do hire companies actually check driving licences?

In the UK, car rental companies are legally required to check your full driving licence, which currently includes the paper counterpart.

When travelling abroad, it varies country by country, but some hire companies do ask to see the paper counterpart of your photocard licence to check for any points and fines. So it's likely they will continue to check, but via the online system from today.

Is there any alternative to requesting a code?

You can give permission for the car rental company to contact the DVLA and check the details over the phone when you get there, but beware of any international call charges or extra service costs this could rack up.

What should I do with my paper counterpart?

The DVLA is advising drivers to destroy the paper part of their photocard licence, although some driving organisations such as the AA are advising motorists to adopt a "belt and braces" approach and keep hold of their paper counterpart for now in case there are any problems with the online service.

In particular, it is warning drivers who want to hire a car abroad to be extra cautious, as the companies, or even traffic police abroad, may not be aware of the changes.

However, DON'T destroy the traditional paper licences that were issued before 1998.

What happens if I get any new points or a fine from today?

You will still have to submit your licence and pay any fines, but the way the offence is recorded will change. From today, any new endorsements will be recorded only online and will not be physically put onto your photocard licence or traditional paper licence.

If you submit the paper counterpart of your photocard licence and your photocard to record a fine, only the photocard will be sent back to you.

If you send off a pre-1998 traditional paper licence, it will be sent back to you and the points will be recorded online instead.

I drive for a living. What do the changes mean for me?

Those who need to provide an employer with a record of their driving history will also be able to use the Share Driving Licence service in the exact same way as outlined above.

Again, the code will be valid for 72 hours for your employer to double check any points or fines, and you will be able to print a PDF copy too.