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The HGV driver shortage in the United Kingdom: What caused it, and how can telematics technology help?

What factors are at play that are contributing to the HGV driver shortage and what measures are being implemented to alleviate this crisis?
The HGV driver shortage in the United Kingdom: what caused it, and how can telematics technology help?


In recent months, the main reasons behind the HGV driver shortage have been a hotly debated topic in the UK.

Two (2) prominent factors identified are the UK’s departure from the EU at the start of 2021 and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many EU drivers returned to their home countries before and during the pandemic and, due to the new immigration laws implemented as a result of Brexit, some of these drivers were not able to return to the UK. Some decided not to return due to difficult working conditions, low wages, long working hours, tax changes and truck driving being so strictly controlled.

Official data indicate that of the estimated 14,000 HGV drivers that left the UK in 2020, only about 600 had returned by July 2021. Data from the Department for Transport indicates that 16,022 practical HGV driving tests were passed in Britain in 2020/21 compared to 41,434 in 2019/20. An approximate 25,000 year-on-year reduction (Department for Transport, 2021a).

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) Annual Population Survey data shows an estimated 300,000 people working in the UK recorded HGV driving as their primary occupation in 2019/20. That is in the run-up to UK’s exit from the EU on January 30, 2020. In addition, 16% of these HGV drivers were from the EU or non-UK countries.

This data highlights that 27,000 non-UK (EU and other nationalities) HGV drivers were plying their trade in 2020/21 compared to 47,000 in the previous year. A reduction of 20,000 HGV drivers.

Therefore, the reduction of HGV driving and the dwindling numbers of non-UK HGV drivers implies an estimated 45,000 HGV driver capacity reductions in the UK between 2019/20 and 2020/21.

Furthermore, truck driving in the UK is no longer a lucrative option for new EU drivers due to increased red tape, such as the increased paperwork needed to travel back and forth. Also, the number of prospective HGV drivers who could not take the truck driving test to receive their license skyrocketed at the pandemic’s peak.

The estimated total cost to obtain an HGV driver’s license is between £250 to £300. It excludes the HGV training costs estimated to be between £1,000 to £2,000, depending on the hours.

Many of these factors have also negatively affected the wages of HGV drivers as it has become more expensive for EU nationals to live and work in the UK. HGV drivers lose out on wages when delayed at borders as they are paid by the distance they cover and not the hours they have worked.

The HGV driver shortage has also been caused by the surge of online shopping at the height of the pandemic, increasing the demand for drivers to make deliveries. It has resulted in supply chains in the UK and around the world being stretched to breaking point.

What is the impact of the HGV driver shortage in the UK?

The ripple effect of the HGV driver shortage is being felt in every facet of the UK economy, as the shortage is driving up supply chain costs. Scarcity of raw materials and delivery delays have disrupted production and manufacturing, leading to slower growth and hefty increases in overall costs.

Prices for same-day deliveries have increased by 30%, and additional storage space for goods awaiting collection is required due to delays in the availability of haulers.

A report from the Bank of England covering April to June also highlighted that “transportation delays had resulted in shortages of some items such as furniture, car parts and electrical goods.” The report also indicated an acute shortage of materials for the construction industry, namely cement and timber.

Additionally, businesses and haulers warned they can no longer guarantee all pickups and deliveries. As a result of this, some retailers are luring HGV drivers with substantial pay bonuses.

What is being done about the HGV driver shortage?

The haulage and logistics sector has urged the UK government to ease visa requirements for EU HGV drivers. Logistics UK, one of the largest trade organisations in the UK, is pleading with the government to create 10,000 seasonal visas for HGV truck drivers, similar to that of the group’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme programme for farmworkers.

The UK government has issued a directive to issue thousands of visas to foreign workers in response to the escalating predicament. The applications for these visas opened at the start of October 2021.

5,000 temporary visas for HGV drivers

The UK government has made 5,000 temporary work visas available to EU HGV drivers to come work between October and December 2021. HGV drivers of all nationalities are invited to apply, and many are expected to come from the EU bloc.

However, the exact criteria for the scheme have not been released, but it is anticipated the visas will form part of the T5 Temporary Worker category.

Other measures in place

The UK government has temporarily relaxed the rules around drivers’ hours to mitigate the HGV driver shortage crisis. It means drivers can increase their daily working hour limit from nine to 11 hours, twice a week.

In addition, initiatives to recruit new drivers has been proposed, and the haulage and logistics sector has been instructed to improve wages and working conditions.

However, the government has resisted the pressure to relax visa rules for EU drivers. Initially, the temporary extension to driver working hours ran for four weeks until August 8, 2021, but was extended to October 3.

The temporary work hour extension was heavily criticised for compromising safety standards, and the transport sector highlighted that it had done little to alleviate the problems it’s facing.

To curb the HGV driver shortage, the Road Haulages Association (RHA) increased its funding for apprenticeships on July 1, 2021, to £7,000. Additionally, many transport companies are offering drivers significant pay increases, bonuses and better working conditions to mitigate the HGV driver shortage.

How can telematics technology help?

Telematics technology is an efficient solution for the transport industry in managing the HGV driver shortage. This innovative technology offers real-time tracking and visibility of entire fleets and mobile assets, reducing the manual work needed to be done by drivers. It is also essential when it comes to electronically monitoring driving hours for compliance.

In addition, it allows drivers to switch between private and business so that waiting times do not affect their hours.

As a result, it considerably enhances operational efficiency and reduces the required training time for temporary drivers. It is achieved through the sharing of insightful and in-depth data between supply chain actors and their systems.

Additional benefits and uses of telematics technology include critical vehicle and preventative maintenance insights, engine monitoring, equipment and uptime maximisation, in-cab driver feedback for real-time risky behaviour correction and driver coaching tools.

Most importantly, by intimately knowing driver and vehicle activity and providing actionable feedback, telematics technology helps in improving safety, increasing savings and reducing risk.


The HGV driver shortage in the United Kingdom: What caused it, and how can telematics technology help?
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