Richard J Smith, transport consultant, takes a look at the three areas in the freight transport industry where acquired rights (previously known as grandfather rights) currently apply.

Why are acquired rights granted?

Grandfather rights, or acquired rights as they are now more properly known, are usually granted when there is a change in some legal requirement for a qualification to practise that would affect those already in the industry.

The award of acquired rights recognises the fact that for the considerable number of people who hold the current qualification, to re-qualify under the new rules would be a huge administrative and practical exercise, and they already have considerable experience in whatever activity is concerned.

Imagine the situation if acquired rights had not been granted when the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) was introduced and all professional large goods vehicle (LGV) drivers had to pass the initial qualification before they could work again. For a substantial amount of time, not only would they not have been able to work, the country would have been without any road haulage services, resulting in complete economic collapse.

There is some risk involved in the granting of acquired rights; those granted acquired rights may not actually be as competent as they ought to be (or think they are) and might even gain some entitlement for which they are not necessarily qualified (see Driver licensing below), but that risk may be considered to be vastly outweighed by the circumstances outlined above.

In respect of road transport, there are three areas where acquired rights currently apply.

Driver CPC and acquired rights

The requirement for all drivers of LGVs (subject to some exemptions) to pass an additional initial qualification (evidenced by the issue of a Driver Qualification Card (DQC)) before being able to drive professionally came into effect in September 2009. Accordingly, those who already held a category C or C1 licence when the new requirement took effect were awarded acquired rights in respect of the initial qualification for the Driver CPC and were not required to take the additional test or hold a DQC — an appropriately dated driving licence being evidence of acquired rights.

In this case, within five years drivers had to complete the necessary 35 hours of periodic training that were also part of the requirement, to which no acquired rights extended.

As soon as the required hours had been completed, a DQC was issued, placing them then on the same footing as drivers without acquired rights.

Drivers who had not completed 35 hours approved training by September 2014 would have had to stop driving professionally until they had, but they did not lose their acquired rights in respect of the initial qualification.

For example, a driver with acquired rights who did not complete the periodic training but instead left the industry can still gain a DQC now by completing the necessary training, without needing to pass the initial test.

Transport Manager CPC and acquired rights

When the requirement for an Operator’s Licence holder, or other named person responsible for the operation, to hold a CPC was introduced, those already managing transport fleets were awarded grandfather rights and a certificate was issued without the need for them to take an examination. These certificates expired on 4 December 2011 but holders who had continuously managed a road transport undertaking in the EU under acquired rights for at least 10 years prior to 4 December 2011 should have been issued automatically with a new acquired rights certificate.

This option is no longer available so this is another example of time-limitation of acquired rights. However, it is different from the case with the driver CPC in that those acquired rights were time-limited from the beginning while here the decision to end them was only taken after many years had passed. In fact, by that time there must have been few people left in the industry relying on acquired rights anyway.

Driver licensing and acquired rights

There are now several separate instances of acquired rights applying to driver licensing.

From June 1990, Great Britain adopted the new EU unified licence and categories for all new issues and the old UK HGV classes 1, 2 and 3 were replaced by category C and C+E.

  • HGV class 3 related to 2-axle rigid vehicles

  • HGV class 2 related to rigid vehicles with more than 2 axles

  • HGV class 1 related to articulated vehicles

  • Class 2 and 3 licences also allowed a drawbar trailer to be towed.

The new category C covered all rigid vehicles (any number of axles) and C+E covered articulated vehicles, and rigid vehicles towing a drawbar trailer. Under the new system of staged testing, a separate trailer test must be passed after the rigid vehicle test to allow either an articulated semi-trailer or a drawbar trailer to be towed.

Prior to the 1990 harmonisation, many drivers with class 2 or 3 licences had been routinely towing drawbar trailers (as was then allowed) and therefore, so as not to disadvantage them, all existing class 2 and 3 licence holders were automatically given a category C+E entitlement, but limited to drawbar trailers only. This acquired right is indicated on the licence by the restriction code 102 against the category C+E entitlement and, in order to remove the restriction and be entitled to drive an articulated vehicle, the category E test must be taken.

The EU category C is for vehicles over 3.5 tonnes; however, the old HGV licences related to goods vehicles exclusively over 7.5 tonnes — with the old Group A (car) licence covering vehicles up to that weight — so a new subcategory C1 was introduced to cover the gap.

Drivers who held an ordinary group A car licence before June 1990 had it converted to category B and were also given entitlement to category B+E, enabling them to drive a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes with a trailer in excess of 750kg gross weight, and also subcategory C1 (vehicles up to 7.5t) and C1+E, which were previously included within group A.

In the case of the C1+E entitlement, a restriction code 107 was applied, limiting the combined weight of vehicle and trailer to 8250kg gross.

It should be noted that although these acquired rights did maintain the status quo for some drivers with appropriate experience, they also perpetuated entitlement to categories for which an additional test was now required to many drivers with no such experience or training.

See the factsheet on Driving licences — Acquired Rights.

Changes affecting drivers under the age of 45

Further changes were made in January 1997 which did not affect acquired rights but there are acquired rights arising from the changes to driver licensing that took effect on 19 January 2013. Drivers then under the age of 45 who had already passed a category C or C1 test, or who had gained the entitlement by acquired rights, will have had a licence issued that was valid until they reach that age, at which point it must be renewed (involving a medical examination) and then renewed again every five years thereafter.

Those who passed the test after 19 January 2013 will have a licence valid for only five years, irrespective of their age, although renewal up to the age of 45 does not require a medical examination. This difference will largely have been done away with by 19 January 2037 by which time drivers who passed the test at the youngest possible age on 18 January 2013 will be 45.

Note:

If a driver under the age of 40 with acquired rights needs a replacement licence because the old one is lost or personal details have changed, the expiry date will remain as on the original (ie his or her 45th birthday) but when the photograph on a photocard licence is updated (as it must be every 10 years) or a paper licence is exchanged for a photocard, the five-year expiry date will then apply. This distinction will effectively cease to exist in 2021, by which time virtually no-one with acquired rights will be under 45.

The ultimate cut-off will be 2025 when even those who passed their test in the Armed Forces at the age of 17 in 1996 will reach 45.

CI entitlement and paper licences

A consequence of the introduction of the C1 sub-category concerns car drivers who gained the entitlement by acquired rights under the 1990 harmonisation. If the paper licence then in force has not been exchanged for a photocard, the C1 entitlement will not expire until the car licence does, ie at age 70. Therefore the driver can continue to drive goods vehicles up to 7.5t until then without needing to renew the licence and undergo a medical examination. This contrasts with the case of one who actually passed the C1 test after 1990, who will have to renew the entitlement every five years (with a medical) after the age of 45.

The car licence can be automatically renewed at 70 without any medical examination, but the C1 entitlement cannot be.

Conclusion

Acquired rights provide a pragmatic solution to the administrative and practical problems that would arise when a requirement to hold certain qualifications to operate is introduced or amended. Without them there would be a lengthy period when most, if not all, existing practitioners would be barred from working until they had re-qualified, with disastrous consequences for the economy and the country.

Although it is impossible to specify the duration of time in which acquired rights will serve as a solution, the situation will only be a temporary one — though possibly lasting many years — since eventually all those qualifying for acquired rights will have left the industry through change of job, retirement or death and the acquired rights will lapse naturally. In other cases, the rights will be terminated after a specified period to give those holding them a chance to comply with the new requirement.

At the same time, it must be accepted that there is some risk that acquired rights will allow some people to carry out roles in which they have had neither training nor experience. Employers should, therefore, always check when employing someone whether any necessary qualification is held through acquired rights and satisfy themselves as to the competence of that person.

Last reviewed 30 September 2019