Why is there a Lorry driver shortage?

It is well reported currently in the news about the LGV / Lorry driver shortage. But this sudden rise to the front pages is not new. The UK has trundled along with a driver shortage for years. Before Coronavirus the estimated number that the industry was short to provide the UK perfectly for it’s haulage and distribution needs was 60,000. Along comes Coronavirus and various other factors like Brexit and you have created what is now being reported as ‘The Perfect Storm’. 

Is Coronavirus causing the driver shortage?

It’s the easiest event to blame everything on within the last fourteen months. The driver shortage is no different, although it alone is not the reason the deficit of drivers is now up to an eye watering 100,000. The Driving Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) usually has 43,000 new drivers passing their HGV tests each year to infill the hole left by those retiring. More on that later. But due to the 8 months where not a single test outside of critical workers was undertaken, this has resulted in only 15,000 HGV test passes. More than 27,000+ new drivers that never made it to the road.

Secondly, back in 2020 when Covid-19 first presented itself as a growing worldwide problem, a lot of EU drivers within the industry went back home to their respective countries to wait things out and be with their families. Because of the limited movement, and for large periods total lockdown, they couldn’t get back into the UK. Many still can’t. In 2020-2021 there is estimated to be 15,000 less EU nationals working in the UK. Leading us to the other catalyst for the lorry driver shortage that links to Covid-19 – Brexit. When the UK officially left the EU on January 31st 2020 this compounded the issue of getting these skilled workers in from the continent. Before when we were part of the single market and people and produce could cross borders hassle free, none of this was a problem. But Brexit and Coronavirus working together has caused chaos with the UK not receiving the help in the haulage and distribution industry it has always relied so heavily upon from the EU.

Is IR35 causing the driver shortage?

First of all what is the issue surrounding IR35 and the way workers are employed, and on what basis? Before the new regulations came in April 2021, individuals would set themselves up as a limited company and employers / agencies would pay ‘the company’ which then paid the individual within the company. By doing it this way they pay less tax resulting in keeping more of what they are grossly paid. However the laws have now changed and someone is going to have to pick up the tax bill! This means that drivers that historically used this loophole to their financial advantage now have the HMRC to answer to. So less financial incentive for lorry drivers to remain in the industry, or come back to it. 

’Poor pay and working conditions are reasons not to become a lorry driver’

Is an all too familiar statement from people inside and outside of the LGV industry. And to a degree they are right. Or used to be. There were the original glory days where being a lorry driver delivering vital goods to the construction industry and supermarkets as two examples was a well regarded trade and it was paid accordingly. As time has gone on with the introduction of more and more technology, the industry has been cast into the shadows and disregarded as an unglamorous job. Hence the reason for the declining uptake of young drivers into the industry to replace those retiring. The Road Haulage Association (RHA) reports that the average age of a driver in the UK currently is 55. With more drivers leaving than entering the LGV job market, again you are headed down the road of overall numbers declining. 

Companies in the past have also been hesitant to hire young drivers with little to no experience to protect their already lofty insurance premiums and often wouldn’t employ anyone under the age of 25 due to the underwriting and heavy extras from insurance companies.

Is the DVLA strike causing the driver shortage? 

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) receive 60,000 pieces of mail in the post every single day. From people who have lost their licence and applying for a new one all the way to Lorry applications. So when the union of workers within the DVLA stage a series of walk outs, that is going to slow down thousands upon thousands of applications for would be lorry drivers. 

Why are the DVLA on strike?

You guessed it, Coronavirus. Back in 2020 the DVLA based in Wales had 600 out of a workforce of 6000 test positive for Coronavirus due to what the union says were breaches in Covid safety measures not being put in place. A tenth of the entire organisation contracted Covid, which is the largest infection rate within a single work organisation in the UK. 535 of those 600 cases were between September 2020 and January 2021 alone! 

The DVLA said publicly that ‘online applications were unaffected’ and running as normal. However the process to apply to become a lorry driver requires a medical report from a doctor and you to surrender your existing licence to gain a new one with the lorry provisional entitlement on there. So new driver applications could make up a large number of those 60,000 pieces of correspondence potentially piling up in the DVLA post room.