There have been talks about an HGV driver shortage for some years now, but things reached crisis point sometime in 2021. In October 2021, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) was estimating a shortage of more than 100,000 qualified drivers in the UK.
But where are we now? As 2023 draws to a close and we move into 2024, is there still an HGV driver shortage? In this post we’ll review the underlying causes of the shortage and the measures the government introduced to address the issue. We’ll also examine the current situation to determine how successful these measures may have been.
At Anthony Jones we specialise in insurance for the transport and logistics sector – from commercial truck and HGV insurance through to the insurance needs of large fleets. So, if you’re considering you’re a fleet manager with questions about your insurance needs, then get in touch with us today.
Causes of the HGV Driver Shortage?
Like all crises, there were many underlying causes of the recent HGV driver shortage, such as:
- Aging population
We’ll explore each of these in more detail below.
As we’ll see, certain international events underpin the HGV driver shortage. Yet these events did not cause the driver shortage so much as make a bad situation even worse. In 2019, we reported that the average age of truck drivers was 53, and that 13% of them were over 60, and only 2% were under 25. This meant that huge numbers of HGV drivers were retiring every year, with not enough young drivers to replace them.
Lockdown and self-isolation requirements caused mass disruption in every industry. Among other things, it meant that many UK driver test facilities were shut down.
The RHA estimated that this resulted in the loss of 30,000 HGV driver test slots. The pandemic also meant that many HGV drivers not native to the UK returned to their home countries, with travel restrictions and lockdowns making them unwilling or unable to return.
According to the RHA, as many as 60,000 UK HGV drivers are from EU member states. Brexit put new rules in place for anyone who wants to come to the UK to work.
While these rules didn’t outright ban non-UK drivers from working in the UK, a period of adjustment to the new system, along with other complications in recruiting HGV drivers from EU member states, would have contributed to the driver shortage.
IR35 is a set of tax rules governing off-payroll working. The government made changes to the IR35 rules in April 2021. These new rules affected HGV drivers employed via agencies on a contractor basis.
For many HGV drivers, the new rules meant that they’d have to pay additional income tax and national insurance contributions. This led to numerous disputes, with many drivers choosing to leave the industry.
How Did The Government Attempt To Address the HGV Driver Shortage?
In early 2021 UK economy started to recover from COVID-19. At first the bounce-back made the driver shortage even worse. Increasing demand across all supply chains, and the reopening of retail outlets and the hospitality sector, put tremendous strain on an industry that was already at breaking point.
Over the following months and years, the government introduced a number of schemes to address the HGV driver shortage. These included:
- A temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours rules in England, Scotland, and Wales. For a limited period, HGV drivers could increase their daily driving limits from nine hours to 10.
- Initiatives to encourage retired HGV drivers to return to work. In early 2023, the Minister for roads, buses, and places put out a statement: “Your valuable skills and experience have never been more needed than they are now.”
- Initiatives to encourage employers to invest in UK-based workers, rather than relying on labour from abroad.
- Funding to help train new HGV drivers, while increasing the number of HGV driving tests available.
The government also considered revising licencing laws to allow newly-qualified drivers to drive trucks of up to 7.5 tonnes. Some described this idea as “reckless” and “dangerous”, and that the scheme “undermines all the strides the fleet industry has taken to reduce risks.”
Is There Still an HGV Driver Shortage in 2023/24?
There were already signs of improvement by 2022. Logistics UK estimated that the number of HGV drivers in employment fell by 30,300 in the first quarter of 2022. That’s obviously concerning. But this was less of a reduction than we saw in the third and fourth quarters of 2021, which saw falls of up to 49,000.
Also, in the first quarter of 2022, 26,388 practical HGV tests were undertaken. This is an increase of 43% compared to the first quarter of 2019. This boost can be partially attributed to the various improvements made to the throughputs at DVSA testing centres, and partially to the natural recovery every sector saw after the government lifted pandemic restrictions.
But there are signs that the situation is getting even better than it was before the pandemic hit. One report shows that 74% more lorry tests were carried out between January and March 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels. Department for Transport data showed that, by May 2022, there were “record levels” of HGV tests being carried out, a situation the RHA described as “hugely positive.”
Is the HGV Driver Shortage Crisis Over?
All we can say is that no news is good news. We’ve looked on all the major news sites, including those that focus specifically on the fleet industry. It does not seem like anyone’s said anything about an ongoing shortage since mid-2022. From this we might infer that things have continued to improve – or at least, they’ve become stable – since we saw those early positive developments last year.
Maybe the situation’s unsustainable. Perhaps allowing retired HGV drivers to return to work was just kicking the can down the road. When these drivers retire, will we just be in the same mess again?
But even then, numerous companies seem to be actively investing in helping the next generation of HGV drivers complete their training and find rewarding and sustainable work.
Are New HGV Drivers Being Trained?
The Department for Education’s Driver Academy Skills Bootcamps already appear to be producing hundreds of new HGV drivers every year. Also, Red Driver Training has launched a new HGV training and licence acquisition service at its specialist training centre at Donington.
So there are signs that the sector’s in a reasonable state of health. Or at the very least, there are no indications that things are as bad as they were in 2021, or that they’re getting any worse.
At Anthony Jones we specialise in insurance and risk management for the transport and logistics sector – from commercial truck and HGV insurance through to the insurance needs of large fleets. So, if you’re considering you’re a fleet manager and you’re wondering how the current situation might impact your risk profile or insurance needs, then get in touch with us today.