Engagement AND Public Inquiries

Welcome to this edition of the TRU update. Previously, we advised that the Department was recommencing public inquiries, and the necessity of full and open engagement between operators and the Department. The completion of a range of public inquiries in recent months allows a fuller update on the benefits of communicating early with the Department.

Engagement with the Department can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand it can be of great benefit and, for some, essential in retaining your authorisation to carry goods on the road. On the other, where the only engagement is at a public inquiry, the results can be detrimental.

Recently the Transport Regulation Unit concluded a two year long process of engagement with one of Northern Ireland’s largest operators. Initially this operator was having difficulty with drivers’ hours, but engaged fully with the Department and implemented new, best practice processes and procedures. A driver retraining programme was introduced and the impact was visible almost immediately. 

Although enforcement has been reduced during the pandemic, roadside encounters for this operator were getting a green light confirming that improvements off the road were having the desired impact on it. The Department will follow up with this operator in a year’s time to ensure that this good progress is maintained.

Providing the Department with early notice of infringements and convictions – as per the requirement of your operator’s licence – an operator can benefit from engagement with the Department and DVA and avoid being called to a public inquiry. Leaving matters until after being called to an inquiry may be considered a case of ‘too little, too late’.

The role of the licensing and regulatory regime is to assist the wider industry, not hinder it, with road safety and fair competition at the forefront of our daily activities. Therefore, when an operator is called to public inquiry, it is because the Department is concerned that they may be creating a risk to safety and/or competition. If the Department is not satisfied that an operator can be trusted to comply with the licensing regime then that authority to operate may be destined to come to an end.

Since November 2020 the Department has held 24 public inquiries – 14 online, and 10 in person. The Department has prioritised the most concerning cases, and the prioritisation appears to have been justified. 

Of the eight applications considered at public inquiry half have not been granted, and those that were granted had additional conditions applied. 

Regulatory hearings accounted for the other 16 cases and these hearings concluded with 9 licences revoked, 7 people disqualified, 6 licences being curtailed (reduced fleet), and two temporarily suspended. 

If you are called to a public inquiry you should prepare accordingly. Read the material issued and, if required, seek legal or professional assistance. These are serious matters, and your livelihood could be at risk. 

Ensure that you provide the material requested within the deadline specified. If you need any assistance you can contact the caseworker using the contact information on the call up letter. The caseworker is there to help you through this process. 

Notification of upcoming public inquiries, and decisions from those hearings, can be found on the weekly Applications & Decisions publication. Further information can be found in the Department’s published Guide to Public Inquiries.

Financial requirements and documentation for applications and licence continuations

When you submit a variation application, a change of entity application, or during the five yearly licence review, the Department will check that the finance requirement is, or continues to be, met. This is to ascertain that the applicant or licence holder is of the appropriate financial standing if you hold a standard licence or have enough financial resources to hold a restricted licence. 

The level of finance required is set in law for standard licences and the rates are £8,000 for the first vehicle and £4,500 for all additional vehicles. The rate for restricted licences is set by the Department and is currently £3,100 for the first vehicle and £1,700 for each additional vehicle. 

The most common documents we will request are bank statements covering 28 days for applications or three months for licence continuations and accompanying overdraft agreements if applicable. Bank statements must be originals or certified copies if posted to the office. They must show the full name of the licence holder as a legal entity, whether that legal entity is a sole trader, a partnership or a limited company, along with transaction dates and end of day balances. 

Summary statements not containing that information cannot be accepted. Bank statements from other legal entities won’t be accepted to support your application unless that other legal entity has signed a statutory declaration to make those funds available to the licence holder (for sole traders and partnerships) and relevant evidence submitted or a Group or cross-company guarantee (for limited companies).

Evidence of other financial facilities such as credit cards, credit union statements, loans or revolving credit agreements may also be accepted if they are issued to the named legal entity holding the licence. In some cases, audited annual accounts can be accepted instead of bank statements for limited companies where the turnover is at least £10.2m. 

If you believe you may have problems submitting the required documentation or demonstrating access to the required level of funds for your application or licence, it is important to contact the Department as soon as possible and work with us to resolve any issues. 

What if I no longer meet the finance requirement?

Access to appropriate finance is required for road safety reasons. The Department needs to be satisfied that operators have enough money to always maintain vehicles and trailers in a fit and serviceable condition. It is therefore important, and a condition of the licence, that if you find you are no longer able to meet the financial requirement, you notify the Department as a priority. 

Standard licence holders

For standard licence holders, the Department may agree to grant a period of grace to provide further documentation to demonstrate being of the appropriate financial standing. Failing to demonstrate financial standing without an approved period of grace in place, will result in licence revocation so always prioritise communicating with the Department on these matters. 

Restricted licence holders

Similarly for restricted licence holders, the Department can allow time to rectify the situation if a satisfactory explanation and supporting evidence if required, have been received. The Department may also revoke a restricted licence if the licence holder is unable to demonstrate access to sufficient finances and has no prospect of being able to do so by a given time.

There is further detailed information on finance requirements in the Department’s Practice Guidance document no. 2; please read it carefully at your earliest convenience.

Vehicle changes

To add or remove a vehicle from your licence you need to log into your online self-service account at gov.uk/manage-vehicle-operator-licence. Vehicle changes are made in the vehicle section of your record; you do not need to create a variation application to add or remove a vehicle. 

Creating an application can slow down the issuing of a vehicle disc. If you make the change in the vehicle section, the change is effective immediately. Vehicle discs will be issued automatically to the correspondence address on our records. 

Please ensure your contact details are correct in the ‘addresses’ section of your online account.

Vehicle changes cannot be made over the phone or by email for security reasons. If you are not registered to use the online system, please create an account at: register. 

If you have a margin on your licence (fewer vehicles specified than are authorised), within that margin you may operate vehicles additional to those currently specified on the licence (but without exceeding the total authorisation) for a maximum of one month beginning with the day on which the vehicle was first in the licence holder’s lawful possession. 

If the period of use of any vehicle is one month or less there is no requirement to notify the central licensing office. To use a vehicle for more than one month, and remain within the law, the licence holder must inform the central licensing office before that month is up. The vehicle then becomes specified on the licence and the margin is reduced accordingly.

If you wish to operate more vehicles than authorised on your licence, you will need to create an online variation application. The fee to vary a licence is £254 and a newspaper advert will be required to advertise the increase in vehicles and/or trailers, and finances will be required if an increase in vehicles is required. 

You will not have authority to use more vehicles than authorised until the application for additional authority has been approved. The service standard for determining applications is 40 working days.

Please submit applications for any changes and respond to requests from the Department for supporting information and documentation in a timely manner to help speed up the processing of your application. 

Further details about the operator licensing requirements are in the goods-vehicle-licensing-guide-operators and the Department’s Practice Guidance and Instructions documents at: goods-vehicle-licensing-practice-guidance-documents.