The launch of the DVLA’s online licence-checking system has made the process quicker than ever before, but what effect has it had on fleets and should they make checks more frequently? Ben Rooth reports
Last year, the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) transformed the way fleets checked the driving licences of employees. It scrapped the paper licence counterpart and introduced an online system to allow companies to check how many penalty points a driver has or what vehicles they are eligible to drive.
Large fleets and their third-party licence-checking providers can carry out checks in real-time through the Government’s online Access to Driver Data (ADD) system.
At the click of a mouse, fleets in possession of a driver’s permission, known as a ‘mandate’, have the convenience of instant access to up-to-date penalty point information and details on the vehicles that can be driven.
For those fleets that don’t employ a licence-checking company, the cost of establishing this service is between £25,000 and £30,000. In addition, there is an annual fixed cost of between £6,000 and £11,000 for line rental and a fee of 90p per inquiry.
The Association for Driver Licence Verification (ADLV) points out that further costs include the development and ongoing support and maintenance of software that can process the information that needs to flow between drivers and the ADD system.
Alternatively, fleets can use the DVLA’s free View or Share Your Driving Licence system which allows the driver to generate a code using their driver licence number and national insurance number.
This subsequently allows the same checks to be made on one occasion within a 21-day period.
Fleet professionals say the online systems have made the licence-checking process “more accessible” and “streamlined”.
“Commercial online checking systems experienced an increase in checking of nearly one-third since the counterpart ceased to be a means of checking driving licences last June,” says Richard Payne-Gill, deputy chairman of the ADLV.
“We anticipate that our members, who account for 88% of all commercial electronic checks, will process more than 2.5 million checks this financial year.
“More checking means more risk is being identified earlier – and that ultimately makes the UK roads safer.”
Many fleets typically check licences once a year, although this frequency is increased if a driver has penalty points on their licence.
Chairman of the ADLV and director of Licence Bureau Malcolm Maycock says: “Switching all licence checking to an online system provides the perfect opportunity for fleets to frequently check the licences of any employees who drive on business. Industry bodies such as the Freight Transport Association and Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme recommend bi-annual checks, whereas the traffic commissioners for Great Britain have recommended that driver data should be checked and subsequently rechecked a minimum of four times a year.
“The ability of fleets to check licences in real-time should encourage this to be carried out frequently, not only at the initial point of employment.”
Richard Brown, managing director of Licencecheck, also feels that more frequent licence-checking should take place.
“Increased checks are increasingly being demanded as a result of changes in insurance as well as new health and safety guidance,” he says. “Those companies that require people to drive any vehicle in the course of their business and fail to carry out such checks are falling below the basic standards they’re required to observe in these respects.”
In essence, more frequent licence checks demonstrate that a company is taking its duty of care obligations seriously both to its own employees and other road users.
Industry experts also maintain that the failure to enforce this has the potential to result in legal, reputational and financial repercussions, should a driver be involved in an incident. “Put simply, more frequent checking identifies risk earlier so appropriate action can be taken,” says Payne-Gill.
Colin O’Keefe, head of business development at First Travel Solutions, which also provides a driver licence checking service, adds: “Organisations that check licences regularly are operating safe in the knowledge that they have performed their duty of care.
“With the DVLA estimating that one million people are just three points from disqualification, any organisations with a workforce that drives for business is likely to have employees who are close to being legally unable to drive for a period of time. Regular checking can help identify potential candidates who can then be worked with to minimise risk.”
However, the cost of checking and rechecking driving licences up to four times a year – or more frequently – can prove expensive for a large fleet. If an organisation carries out the checks itself or processes the information in-house, it can also result in an increased administration burden.
The licence-checking process can become onerous for those fleets that don’t secure a mandate form from, for example, a newly-recruited driver allowing their licences to be checked.
Fleets that carry out free licence checks through the Share Your Driving Licence system need to get a new code from each driver every time.
“The onus will be on fleet managers to get all employees to consent and share which, depending on the size of the fleet, could be a significant undertaking,” says O’Keefe.
Brown adds: “It will take time to collect this code from each driver and additional time to go online and check the information. Where an agency is used, the driver mandate process allows as many checks and rechecks as required under the same blanket permission over a maximum three-year period, but the DVLA charges a fee for each search that has to be passed back to the customer. This fee could become significant with repeated checking.”
Maycock adds that, in addition to the increased administrative burden, fleets also need to consider the security and storage of data.
He explains: “Checking licences in-house relies on the repeated process of drivers providing a code for each check, which is purely reliant on the HR manager and the driver.
“Under these circumstances, the security and storage of data could also be an issue if multiple drivers are having their licences checked at once, and these records are subsequently downloaded and stored.
Will Murray, research director at eDriving Fleet, which provides tailored driver safety guidance globally, adds: “To go beyond simple compliance, it’s only when the data provided by licence checks is analysed effectively and combined with other risk data such as collisions, telematics and driver assessment that its full value is realised.
“Such analysis can be both time-consuming and undoubtedly has the potential to increase a fleet operator’s administrative burden, which is where the added value can be provided by an external licence checking company or risk management specialist.”
Brown reiterated Murray’s point that retrieving the data is only part of the compliance reporting process.
He adds: ““Fleets should also consider what they are going to do with the results that come back and their own compliance reporting requirements, as the larger the fleet, the more this becomes a chore.
“It’s also worth remembering that licence-checking companies have a great deal of experience and knowledge that can be called upon if and when this is necessary.
“It’s the management service and peace of mind that comes with this rather than the licence check itself that is being charged for.”
Increased frequency licence checking: Pros and Cons
- Swift and easy identification of at-risk drivers
- Peace of mind
- Full compliance with duty of care and insurance requirements
- Increased costs linked to more frequent checks
- Increased admin burden for organisations doing checks themselves
- Potential issues surrounding securing data
What you need to know: Mandates and e-signatures
Fleets need to secure a driver’s permission before they can check their licence.
Those organisations that don’t want to get a single use code every time they do this must obtain a signed mandate from the driver.
Traditionally, a paper document – the DVLA’s D796 form – with a ‘wet’ signature was required. This option remains available to fleets. However, the DVLA can now approve a process allowing electronic signatures, known as e-signatures, on a case-by-case basis.
In both cases, the mandate will last for a maximum period of three years from the date of consent.
The information required on D796 includes the name of the employer to whom the data will be released; the personal details of the driver including full name, address, date of birth and driving licence number; as well as a wet signature and the date.
Richard Brown, managing director of Licencecheck, says: “For the e-signature process, essentially the same personal details have to be confirmed by the driver and the employer.
“The licence-checking agency will have to be declared to the driver as part of the informed consent process. The DVLA has prescribed the information that has to be provided to the driver and the process to be followed in order to secure permission to use e-signature.
“In both cases, the permission ceases to be valid if the driver withdraws their permission within this period, or if the driver leaves their employment within this time or they cease to drive on behalf of their employer.
“There is no limit on the number of checks that can be performed during the currency of the mandate.”
Case study: Mitie
Getting new employees in a company car on their first day at work has been the biggest benefit of the online licence checking service for Mitie.
Simon Gray, head of fleet management at Mitie, says: “Previously, we had been reliant on our employees bringing their counterpart licence with them, but now they can provide us with the code we require to check that there’s no issue with them driving a company vehicle.”
“We used to find that new members of staff would often forget to bring their counterpart licence which delayed this whole process – but that’s no longer an issue for us.”
Mitie provides facilities management, property management and healthcare services to a wide range of public and private sector organisations and has around 7,500 fleet drivers working across the UK.
The company uses fleet management software provider Jaama’s products to licence check all of its drivers regardless of whether they drive a company vehicle or use their own car on company business.
Mitie has made a commitment to ensure all staff get home safely at the end of a working day, and licence checking helps with this.
Gray adds: “From a duty of care perspective, you’ve got to keep on top of licence checking and I believe that the DVLA’s online system has simplified this process.
“We’ve always placed a premium on the safety of our people and the public which is why all of our drivers have their licences checked every six months as standard.
“However, if any of our drivers acquire more than six points then we carry out more regular checks depending on the perceived level of risk.
“To my mind, our system has always been robust and consequently we’ve no plans to change it.”
Case study: NG Bailey
Engineering, IT and facilities services company NG Bailey has found the new online consent system, frequently referred to as ‘e-consent’, “invaluable”.
The system allows drivers to give permission for their licence to be checked via an online process rather than filling in and posting back the old paper D796.
Fleet manager Ronnie Wilson has already noticed how this facility has streamlined the consent process by reducing the admin burden and saving money.
“Previously, we would have to send the paper mandate out and then either wait for it to be returned to us or, if that didn’t happen, chase the driver to return it,” he says.
“With more than 2,000 drivers working nationwide, the return of the D796 frequently got forgotten or overlooked.
“Following the introduction of the new online system last June, we begun employing a driver licence-checking agent to ensure that these mandates are secured on our behalf via e-consent.”
The new e-consent process has not been rolled out across NG Bailey’s entire workforce yet as some drivers do not have mobile devices that can support the agent’s app. These employees are still emailed the D796 mandate which they print off and return by post.
“This situation is improving as mobile devices are replaced,” says Wilson. “We check licences annually, unless they’re deemed to be high risk. If they’ve got nine or more points then we instruct our agent to check their licence every three months and actively work with them to ensure safe driving practices.
“We’ve no plans to change the regularity – despite it having become easier to do as a result of online checking – as our current system works well.”