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DVLA Is Facing A Backlog Of 30,000 HGV And Bus License Applications Amid Major Driver Shortage

The UK is struggling with thousands of shortages of HGV drivers (Alamy)

4 min read

The UK's main driver licensing body say there are still almost 30,000 outstanding applications for HGV and bus licenses, while the country is facing a serious driver shortage.

The haulage industry is facing labour issues across the supply chain, with an estimated shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers, while a lack of staff in the transport sector has led to thousands of bus services being cut.

Both have been blamed partly on a huge fall in the number of tests taken during the pandemic.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has now confirmed that "as of 24 October 2021 a total of 29,545 vocational driving licence applications were waiting to be processed".

Vocational licenses cover lorries, buses and coaches, all sectors which are facing major shortages of drivers. In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson coordinated by the Road Haulage Association, industry bosses have urged government to "act now to prevent a Christmas crisis" as a result of continuing lorry driver shortages.

They say the measures intended to plug the gap, including a temporary three-month visa for HGV drivers, “simply do not go far enough to tackle the crisis and protect the UK economy in the months ahead”.

In September the government announced plans to help an extra 4,000 people train to become HGV drivers with intensive courses to get them ready to take their license exams.

The transport secretary Grant Shapps also said he planned to make up to 50,000 extra HGV driving tests available by shortening the application process and the actual tests themselves.

But incentives to boost the number of HGV drivers are believed to be having a knock-on effect on public transport staffing. The Unite union warned this week that offers of better pay to drive lorries has seen bus and coach drivers leave their jobs.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport said there are curently an estimated 4,000 vacancies, with companies across the UK being forced to cancel or run fewer services because there are not enough staff available.

Figures for last year show the number of approved licenses was just a third of the figure pre-pandemic.

DVLA data shows in 2019/20 more than 70,000 category C tests, the ones needed for large goods vehicles, were taken in the UK, with 43,065 being passed.

That was slightly down from the previous year when 73,895 were processed, but in 2020/21 – when testing centres were often shut down or with staff working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic – there were just 27,569 tests taken.

That meant only 15,979 were approved over that 12 month period, and when coupled with the affects of Covid-19 and Brexit, contributed to an estimated shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers earlier this autumn.

In September the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas submitted a parliamentary question asking what the backlog of applications was, and how it was being cleared now that testing centres were fully open.

A week later transport minister Trudy Harrison confirmed there were “56,144 applications for vocational driving licences awaiting processing”, a figure which includes both HGVs and buses.

She said the DVLA “continues to explore opportunities to reduce turnaround times for paper applications” and that extra staff have been recruited.

A month later her department said it did not have a new figure for the numbers awaiting processing, but said there are currently nearly three times the number of applications for provisional HGV driving licenses being submitted than, which are being prioritised for processing.

Initially neither the DVLA or the Department for Transport were able to provide PoliticsHome with an up to date figure on the backlog of license applications. 

The DVLA said they had passed the request for figures on outstanding applications to their own Freedom of Information team to source saying the data was not readily available to them.

“You should expect to receive a reply to your request by 22 November,” a spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson was however able to provide a figure this week, and insisted that the backlog in applications had "fallen by over 20,000 since the start of October and is continuing to fall every day".

They had said that while the backlog remains substantial, they are working to ensure a swift processing time for applications. 

“There are no delays for bus and lorry provisional licence applications which are currently being issued in around 5 days – we are prioritising these applications and looking at ways to speed up this process even further," the spokesperson said. 

"The vast majority of lorry and bus applications we have are drivers renewing their licences and in most cases these drivers can continue to drive while we are processing their application provided they have not been told by their doctor or optician they should not drive.”

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