Last reviewed 20 August 2021
In order to cope with the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and maintain essential transport, a number of relaxations have been made by the Government. The Senior Traffic Commissioner has also published a set of temporary updates to certain of the existing Statutory Documents that provide guidance to Traffic Commissioners when dealing with regulatory issues. These relaxations apply to England, Scotland and Wales only, as the arrangements for Northern Ireland are devolved.
HM Treasury suspended collection of the HGV Road User Levy for one year with effect from 1 August 2020, ie until 31 July 2021. Collection of the levy will now be suspended for a further 12 months, ie until 31 July 2022. This will reduce financial liabilities for keepers of goods vehicles of 12 tonnes or more registered in the UK and for operators of such vehicles from outside the UK using the UK roads.
Operators do not need to take any action as a zero rate of levy will automatically be applied at the vehicle’s next VED/Levy renewal.
Department for Transport Relaxations
The DfT relaxations concern areas of transport law where an order from the Secretary of State is necessary to introduce the relaxation which may already be provided for by existing legislation.
Drivers’ Hours for Goods Vehicle Drivers
The temporary relaxation of the retained EU drivers’ hours for operations in Great Britain, initially effective from 0001 on 12 July 2021 until 2359 on 8 August 2021 has been extended until 2359 on 3 October 2021.
The relaxation may only be used if at least one of three conditions is met:
there is significant risk of a threat to human and/or animal welfare or a failure of a particular supply chain that will have a serious impact on essential public services
there is evidence that the risk is unlikely to be resolved if the relaxation is not used
a risk assessment has been carried out on using the temporary relaxation and suitable control measures/mitigation have been put in place. Drivers continue to be bound by the Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations 2005.
Under this relaxation drivers on national journeys may:
the daily driving limit may be extended from nine hours to 11 hours (rather than 10) on not more than two days in a week
the requirement to take at least one 45-hour regular weekly rest period in a 2-week period may be replaced with two consecutive reduced weekly rest periods of 24 hours and an increase in the fortnightly driving limit to 99 hours (rather than 90).
In the second case, the two reduced weekly rest periods must be followed by two regular weekly rest periods. Any reduction in weekly rest must also be compensated for in the usual way, ie by an equivalent additional period attached to a regular weekly rest period before the end of the third week.
Any reduced weekly rest periods taken before 9 August must be taken into account and compensated for in the normal way before using the alternative under this relaxation.
Any reduced weekly rest periods taken in the two weeks prior to 3 October must be compensated for as described above.
This relaxation must not be used in combination with existing rules for international driving which already allow for two consecutive reduced weekly rest periods in certain circumstances.
If the relaxation is used, employers must notify DfT by completing an initial notification of relaxation form and emailing it to RSSSFOLRCOVID19@dft.gov.uk. A follow-up notification must also be made to the same address one week after the period of relaxation.
The standing concession in the case of emergency situations where immediate preventative action is needed to avoid danger to the life or health of people remains, ie when the journey is necessary to:
provide goods and services to protect public health
meet their or others’ basic needs for day to day living
provide medical treatment.
Under such circumstances operators may make use of the exemption without notifying DfT but only for as long as the emergency lasts.
Even under such emergency situations drivers must observe the requirement for a break of 45 minutes after 4½ hours driving and should not:
drive for more than 11 hours in a day
have less than nine hours daily rest
work for more than seven days before the start of weekly rest
have less than 24 hours weekly rest.
Drivers must note the reason for the deviation from the rules on a tachograph printout and operators must also keep a record of the deviation and the reason.
There are no current concessions in force regarding the Driver CPC and drivers with a DQC expiring after 1 September 2020 must not drive until it is renewed.
Non-vocational photocard licences due for renewal between 1 February 2020 and 31 December 2020 were automatically extended for 11 months from the date of expiry. A new licence was not issued and all such licences must be renewed before the end of the extension period. This also applied to some vocational licence holders.
Drivers whose licence was automatically extended by 11 months will not be sent another application pack when it is due to expire and must order one as soon as possible but not more than two months before the extension expiry date. The application must include a D4 medical report.
Vocational licences still had to be renewed as usual but drivers over the age of 45 who found it impossible to get the necessary D4 medical form completed could make a licence renewal application without one and receive a temporary licence valid for 12 months only. Before the extended licence expires drivers must apply for a new one, including the D4 medical report.
The D4 waiver scheme is still available in exceptional circumstances for drivers with vocational licences expiring after 1 January 2020 who have not already received a 12-month licence.
Drivers must declare they are fit to drive and must continue to declare certain medical conditions to DVLA in the normal way. Penalties for driving when knowingly unfit will continue to be enforced.
For details of notifiable conditions, see Medical Standards in the topic Vocational Driving Licences.
Drivers who received a 1-year licence without a D4 medical report, and those whose licence is due to expire as normal, will be sent an application pack for a new licence two months before the licence is due to expire. This must be completed and submitted as soon as possible.
In view of the current situation at DVLA it will be worth reminding drivers that under Section 88 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 driving may continue although a licence has expired, providing certain conditions are met.
A correct and complete application must have been received by DVLA in the last 12 months and the licence holder must:
have previously held a licence for the category of vehicle to be driven
meet the requirements for fitness to drive vehicles of the category to be driven and not had the previous licence revoked or refused for medical reasons
not currently be disqualified from driving or had the previous vocational licence suspended, revoked or refused by a Traffic Commissioner
meet all conditions (if any) specified on the previous licence.
Annual Roadworthiness Tests
All annual (MoT) testing was suspended on 21 March 2020 and temporary exemptions were issued, but testing has now resumed.
Lorries, buses and trailers
Vehicles and trailers due for test before 21 March 2021 will have received one automatic three-month exemption, eg examinations due in March were moved to June. All such vehicles must now have been retested.
Some vehicles and trailers were given a 12-month exemption. These are those that are:
used by an Earned Recognition operator
used by an operator in the green OCRS roadworthiness band with 50 or more roadworthiness events and a calculated roadworthiness base score of 1.3 or lower on 27 July 2020
less than two years old.
These must be retested before the extension expires.
Light vehicles with MoTs due to expire on or after 30 March 2020 and up to and including 31 July 2020 were given a single 6-month extension but must now have been tested before use on the roads.
Tachograph calibration certificates expiring between 31 March and 31 August were extended by six months from the date calibration was originally due. Certificates that expired on or after 1 September 2020 must be renewed as usual.
Until 31 August 2020 drivers who had applied to renew their tachograph card at least 15 days before the date of expiry could continue to drive until they received the new card. Drivers must not now drive without a valid tachograph card.
Drivers who apply for a replacement for a damaged card within seven days of the card being damaged can also continue to drive until the new card arrives.
Hours of work must be recorded in the same way as when a card is lost, damaged, stolen or malfunctions under normal circumstances.
The Senior Traffic Commissioner’s contingency guidance, last updated 30 July 2020, remains in force and relates to issues in connection with maintaining the operator licence and in many cases are re-statements of discretionary powers to make concessions that are already available to Traffic Commissioners. FAQs for operators, last updated 9 August 2021 are also available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/advice-heavy-goods-and-public-service-vehicle-operators-covid-19/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-heavy-goods-and-public-service-vehicle-operators.
Traffic Commissioners (TCs) can grant a temporary exemption from any requirement to hold a standard licence. This can allow a restricted licence holder to operate for hire and reward, for a standard licence holder to use more vehicles than the licence allows or for someone who does not hold a licence to use a goods vehicle for hire or reward in connection with a business.
Written requests, with justification, should be sent to Enquiries@otc.gov.uk. The TC will have to be satisfied that the applicant is not unfit to engage in road transport and may also check that the applicant has satisfactory facilities and arrangement for maintaining the vehicles in a fit and serviceable condition and that the same requirements listed below under Financial Standing are met.
Standard licence holders who find they cannot continue to meet the financial standing requirements will need to write to the Traffic Commissioner and ask for a “period of grace”. The Senior Traffic Commissioner has directed that providing:
the operator is not insolvent
there are no outstanding maintenance or other issues impacting on road safety
this is not an attempt to avoid responsibility for compliance failures.
Traffic Commissioners can grant a period of grace starting at four months with the possibility of an extension to the maximum allowable period of six months. A satisfactory financial check within the last six months may be relied on as evidence to support the grant of a period of grace.
If the inability to meet the financial standing requirements has been shown on a check made between 1 March and 30 September 2020, the maximum period of grace has been extended to 12 months.
There is no facility to grant a period of grace to restricted licence holders and they should consider offering the Traffic Commissioner an undertaking for a financial check to be carried out at a specified date in the future.
Where a standard licence holder temporarily loses access to an operating centre as a result of restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 outbreak, the Traffic Commissioner can give a period of grace (four months initially, extendible to six months) to allow the vehicles to be parked at a suitable site elsewhere. Restricted licenced holders should apply to the Traffic Commissioner for advice.
Where the circumstances require an operator to exceed the authorised number of vehicles operated from a particular centre, though still within the total number of vehicles authorised, a normal application for a variation should be made through the online service with an interim direction also being sought.
Although vehicles must never be operated in an unsafe condition, Traffic Commissioners allowed a risk-based approach to be used by standard licence holders or restricted licence holders operating essential transport services when the stated maintenance intervals could be maintained. This relaxation ceased on 1 September. Where an extended frequency was already in use at that time it could continue until the first inspection after 1 September but from then onwards all vehicles must then be maintained in accordance with the frequency stated on the operator’s licence.
Consideration should be given for use of mobile inspection services at operating centres. The inspection should be as complete as possible under the circumstances and still include an instrumented brake test.
DVSA will not take enforcement action in the case of vehicles operated with non-safety-critical minor or major defects when parts or workshop facilities are unavailable. This does not apply to serious defects. The defect(s) must have been reported on an in-service inspection, and evidence of such reports and deferrals must be kept in the records. In all cases, a qualified technician should make the judgement of whether the vehicle can be safely kept in service. Guidance in the HGV or PSV Inspection Manuals should be used to determine minor, major or serious defect classification.
Where transport managers are required by government instructions to work from home in the short term, they must consider how they can fulfil the statutory duty by using technology and other means, and may be required to demonstrate this. If the requirement to work from home exceeds four months, the transport manager should notify the Traffic Commissioner of their working arrangements.
Traffic Commissioners do not expect to be notified of short periods of absence such as a 14-day self-isolation period but for a more protracted absence, a period of grace may be required for the operator to continue working. In accordance with the normal practice, in this respect, this will initially be for four months, extendible to a maximum of six months.
Driver attestations relating to the nationality of employed drivers under EC Regulation 1072/2009 that expired between 1 March and 31 August were extended for six months from the original date of expiry. In date attestations are now required.
These relaxations and concessions should enable drivers and operators to continue to provide transport services that are essential at this time. All are time-limited in different ways and it will be important that operators note when each of them is due to end so that the necessary steps can be taken to regularise the situation in good time.