Last reviewed 10 August 2015

Paul Clarke, transport writer, looks at the penalties imposed by UK Border Force on haulage companies for every stowaway found in a UK-bound lorry, and summarises the precautions that hauliers should take to avoid being fined.

On journeys across Europe by lorry, the section from Calais to Dover used to be one of the more relaxing for drivers. In recent months, however, the words “Calais”, “migrant” and “crisis” have never been far from the headlines, and latest figures show that haulage firms and lorry drivers owe more than £4 million in fines imposed by the UK Border Force for failing to keep vehicles secure. Every “stowaway” migrant found on board UK-bound vehicles can cost drivers and their employers as much as £2000 and, according to figures received by the BBC, more than 3300 fines were issued in 2014/15, up by more than half on equivalent figures for 2013/14.

According to Home Secretary Theresa May, more than 8000 attempts by migrants to travel to Britain were intercepted by officials in less than one month earlier this year. So what can drivers and operators do to protect themselves and their vehicles from the attentions of the hundreds of migrants gathered at the French port and seeking illegal entry into the UK?

Code of Practice

Updated in 2014 and now available in half a dozen languages (including Czech, Hungarian and Polish), the Government's 2008 document Civil penalty prevention of clandestine entrants: code of practice remains the key document for those wishing to protect their vehicles.

The Code sets out very specific requirements. For example, before final loading takes place, all existing cuts or tears in the outer shell or fabric of the vehicle which exceed 25 centimetres in length, must be repaired and sealed so as to prevent unauthorised entry.

Other suggestions require common-sense precautions to be taken such as, when the final loading has been completed, securing the load space immediately by lock, seal or other security device to prevent unauthorised entry. "There must be no means of entry to the load space, other than via access points which have been secured by lock, tilt cord/strap and seal, or other security device," the Code insists.

Among other requirements:

  • seals, other than Customs’ seals, must be distinguished by a number from a series which is unique to the owner, hirer or driver. This must be recorded in documentation accompanying the vehicle;

  • when a sealed container (except a container sealed by Customs) is loaded onto a vehicle, the owner, hirer or driver must, where possible, check to ensure that it does not contain unauthorised persons. It must then be resealed and made secure;

  • where a new driver becomes responsible for the vehicle en route to the UK, he or she should ensure that it does not contain unauthorised persons and that the requirements detailed above have all been met;

  • any external storage compartments, tool boxes and wind deflectors should be checked as should the area beneath the vehicle; and

  • vehicles should be checked regularly en route to the UK to ensure that they have not been entered, particularly after stops when left unattended.

DIY defence

Not included in the Code is a more recent development: a portable device which picks up CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions within a 40-foot range and can send text or email alerts to the driver or transport manager and the manufacturer’s monitoring service using a roaming SIM. For details, see What’s NewDo-it-yourself stowaway detection (27/07/2015).

It should be noted however that the Code specifies, with regard to checking inside the vehicle: "Effective detection devices may be used for this purpose at the discretion of the owner, hirer or driver, but this will not obviate the requirement that the other checks (detailed in the Code) be carried out."

Getting accredited

Further guidance is available from the Home Office and Border Force with information also available from the clandestine entrant civil penalty team (CECPT) by emailing civilpenaltyunit@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk. The team will provide details of how to join an accreditation scheme to help reduce fines. To qualify, operators must have an effective security system for their vehicles. They must also make sure the system is used properly, including by training and checking drivers. Companies in the scheme must continue to meet all the requirements to avoid being fined.

For a company, an effective system includes:

  • written instructions for drivers on how to use the system;

  • robust security devices to effectively secure the vehicle, load and load space;

  • training for drivers on how to use the system and security devices;

  • giving vehicle security checklists to drivers: and

  • checking that drivers are following the instructions.

Help for drivers

A number of publications are available for drivers wishing to carry out the required precautions. These include:

  • Lorry Crime Prevention: Information for drivers on preventing road freight crime and illegal immigration (available here), a Home Office and Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) booklet which advises on how to prevent lorry and load theft as well as illegal immigration.

  • Vehicle security checklist (available here), produced by Border Force, which is available in a range of languages including Lithuanian, Portuguese, Romanian and Slovakian.

  • Effective system + proper operation = no penalty, (available here), 10-step guide to avoiding a fine produced by the Border Force. Again this is available in a range of European languages (see GOV.UK for the full list).

Driver CPC

Module 4 of the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) includes checking for risks from criminal acts and trafficking. To complete this module, drivers must be able to show that they can keep their vehicles safe and secure, scoring at least 80 out of 100 points in a practical test lasting 30 minutes. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has published a video on YouTube that shows the test being carried out and includes questions about preventing illegal entry into the vehicle. EP Training Services Ltd have produced an extended video on the same subject which can also be found on YouTube and which again covers the need to prevent risks from illegal migrants (this section begins at about the 14-minute mark in the video).

Keep calm

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) has responded to the current talks of crisis by reminding drivers and operators that, if they carry out the recommended precautions as outlined above, they are unlikely to be fined if “stowaway” migrants are found on board their vehicles.

"The requirements are well-known to established cross-Channel hauliers," the RHA pointed out. "They are not greatly different from what many firms would want to do to secure their loads in any case."

If drivers and operators do face fines, there is an appeals procedure, which is outlined in Tim Ridyard’s feature article “Stowaway” migrants: how to object and appeal against liability or penalties.