Fleet News

Covid-19: your fleet questions answered

Fleet News hosted a webinar in April, sponsored by Driving for Better Business and FleetCheck, looking at the impact of the coronavirus crisis on UK businesses and providing advice and guidance about the types of actions they could take to minimise the impact on their fleet operations.

The 30-minute presentation ended with a host of questions. Many were answered during the session, others were taken away to find out the answers.

Thanks to our expert panel: Simon Turner at Driving for Better Business, Peter Golding at FleetCheck, Lisa Dorn at Cranfield University, Kevin Curtis at Driving Monitor, Nigel Morris at MHA and the Freight Transport Association for providing the answers below.

We have split them into business continuity, essential drivers, non-essential drivers and vehicles.

Watch the managing company vehicles during Covid-19 webinar

Business Continuity

Q: What business plans are being made for when we restart regarding the review of operating models in areas where social distancing and vehicle sanitisation is required?

Some of the fleets we are talking to have developed or evolved robust sanitisation policies to deal with the current situation and are looking to maintain these as a permanent component of their overall health and safety policies. With indications that social distancing could last for another year, and that subsequent waves of infection could require further lockdowns, this seems like a sensible approach.

The current crisis has also highlighted the need for resilience which requires a strong financial base and efficient operations. Strong fleet management to control unnecessary costs is therefore essential.

Peter Golding, managing director, FleetCheck

FTA is working closely with DfT on its Restart and Recover plan for all supply chains.  We have pressed the points that in many areas the supply chain will not know when to restart operations until demand has restored; this means that Government is going to have to be agile in the guidance it provides.  We are also highlighting other regulatory barriers which could cause constraints when the supply chain is under significant pressure (e.g. HGV testing). Government has provided a range of relaxations for the purposes of maintaining critical supply chains during the grip of the crisis (food, medicine, fuel), the decisions it will need to make during the recovery period will be in respect of economic recovery rather than critical supplies so weighing that up against regulatory safety provisions will be very different.

FTA Policy Team

Q: For those companies that have downsized, and where staff have been allocated additional responsibilities, how are they managing driver safety?

There is no relaxation of an operator’s duty of care, these aspects are issues that the business would be expected to manage appropriately. Traffic Commissioners have issued guidance surrounding expectations of continuous and effective management during the crisis.

FTA Policy Team

Companies need to ensure they stick with their safety policies. This is usually a case of continuing with their current processes even with smaller teams. Given the current systems available today most of the driver compliance checks are automated and will continue to function, and any physical checks such as vehicle inspections and driver training can still take place with the current tools and processes available today.

Kevin Curtis, managing director, Driving Monitor

Q: How has technology assisted companies during this challenging time?

Having access to fleet data remotely if working from home has allowed fleet managers to stay in control of their vehicles and drivers. Plus vehicle checking apps have made it easier to do walkaround checks on essential vehicles without having to pass pieces of paper around among staff.

We’ve also all had to get used to using video conferencing technology to maintain client and supplier relationships and I think that is set to continue after lockdown so we may well see less business miles recorded by company car and grey fleet drivers when we go back to work.

Peter Golding, managing director, FleetCheck

Technology such as on line meetings via Skype, Teams and Zoom have been used to avoid face to face meetings and the delivery of training.

FTA Policy Team

Q: Are companies adjusting their fleet policies to incorporate social distancing, protective clothing, sanitization of vehicles, etc?

At this early stage we've not seen policy documentation change across the industry as a whole, but we expect to see this roll out over the coming months as employers adopt longer-term strategies of coping with Coronavirus. I believe this will also form part of a wider strategy of safety for drivers which will come in the form of eLearning tools, additional policies and more checks and balances to ensure safety guidelines are being adhered to.

Kevin Curtis, managing director, Driving Monitor

We’re starting to see fleets think about sanitisation policies as a permanent fixture. Social distancing looks here to stay for the foreseeable future so I think we’ll see more fleets formally integrating this into both their general health and safety policies and their driving for work policies, with additional resources put into induction, training and communication where required.

Simon Turner, campaign manager, Driving for Better Business

Many companies have put policies in place following government guidelines including social distancing, wearing of gloves etc. Some companies operating RCVs are also looking at ways to separate out the truck’s cab area, with screens to separate the driver from any crew member. Any screens fitted should not obscure the drivers view, impede the use of any controls. Any fittings must not have any jagged edges. DVSA should be notified of any modifications made to the vehicles cab to ensure it is still safe to use. This can be done using a notifiable alteration and include any notes, drawings/photos etc in the application.

FTA Policy Team

Q: What key lessons have been learnt by Fleet Managers during this unprecedented time?

This is an emerging area and the lessons will come further down the line as we reach the summer and beyond. The early signs are that in times of lockdown we see patterns of more efficient routes and fuel usage - which is generally due to less congestion with clearer routes. One negative side-effect we're starting to see from Telematics data and risk-analysis is that drivers are three times more likely to trigger speeding offences in lockdown periods. This worrying trend is something that technology can easily identify allowing employers to quickly deal with consistent speeders - something that 10 years ago may have been harder to spot so quickly.

Kevin Curtis, managing director, Driving Monitor

Essential Drivers

Q: Can we clarify that the temporary relaxation in drivers’ hours is NOT for all drivers, just the ones classified as essential workers?

Check out GOV.UK for Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on drivers’ hours relaxations and further guidance on the temporary relaxation of enforcement. The guidance says that you can only take advantage of this change if your journeys are essential. Drivers, even in emergencies are not expected to drive more than 11 hours or have less than 9 hours rest each day.

It also says the standard drivers’ hours rules are important safety-related rules put in place to improve road safety and the working conditions of drivers and reduce the risk of drivers being involved in fatigue-related accidents. Therefore, these temporary relaxations should only be used where absolutely necessary. The temporary relaxations are designed to support the transport of vital goods, including the supply chains related to medicines, health, fuel, food and other necessities only, and operators should, wherever possible, attempt to recruit additional drivers from other sectors who are out of work or facing being furloughed.

Simon Turner, campaign manager, Driving for Better Business

Initially the relaxation was applied only to very specific sectors, such as the food retail supply chains, then on 23 March the relaxation was applied to the whole industry. No specific restrictions were applied; the DfT notice stated: “Although the relaxations are not limited to specific sectors or journeys, they should only be used where necessary. Otherwise normal drivers’ hours rules should apply. We believe the relaxations should be used by drivers involved in the carriage of essential goods by road; such as for example, the carriage of medical equipment/supplies (including oxygen and clinical waste); and the delivery of essential food and hygiene items (including animal feed and milk collection).

FTA Policy Team

Q: In certain circumstances, some companies have been recruiting drivers at a phenomenal rate.  How do they ensure that all historic risk and safety standards are being maintained and driver training / data is captured?

This is a resource issue – the company would be best advised to allocate dedicated members of staff to ensure that data is captured and standards maintained.

Dr Lisa Dorn, research director, Driver Metrics and associate professor of Driver Behaviour, Cranfield University

There is no relaxation of an operator’s duty of care, these aspects are issues that the business would be expected to manage appropriately.

FTA Policy Team

This is very easy to achieve given today's technology and systems available. Drivers can be vetted and risk assessed with their licence already checked ready for the interview stage. By adopting a robust and secure driver vetting system the company not only maintains its standards and covers their H&S duty-of-care, they also avoid additional costs associated with employing risky drivers.

Kevin Curtis, managing director, Driving Monitor

Non-Essential Drivers

Q: What type of training is being provided to drivers regarding the risks associated with the current climate? Especially around vehicle sanitization?

Public Health England (PHE) has approved a guidance note, issued by the Department for Transport (DfT), on best practices to ensure vehicle cabs are kept clean and healthy using regular cleaning methods. It stresses that the frequency of cleaning protocols needs to be increased – especially if a vehicle has a high utilisation level (in which case it should be doubled) – and take place when crews change over. All hard surfaces that are touched often (eg, door handles, steering wheels) should be cleaned frequently. Full guidance can be found here.

FTA Policy Team

There are eLearning modules available to cover driver safety and due diligence when it comes to Covid-19 and essential workers using vehicles. Driving Monitor has also produced a free guide for key workers where fleets need to continue to operate - there is a link to this guide, and others, in the Driving for Better Business COVID-19 resources.

Kevin Curtis, managing director, Driving Monitor

Q: Can you confirm furloughed company car drivers are still eligible to use their cars for essential private trips – i.e. shopping – given the person is still an employee and being taxed for the benefit?

Yes. Furlough is about not working for your employer, but the company car benefit continues to apply as it is based on availability rather than actual usage. Therefore we would not expect employers to make the use of the vehicle illegal, by (say) cancelling the insurance or registering it as SORN etc. and therefore the car should still be available for actual use in line with the Government restrictions.

Nigel Morris, tax director, MHA

Q: With drivers now based at home and not driving for work, can they apply for a tax break from their P11d?

The recent announcement from HMRC that company cars will not be seen as available for benefit in kind tax purposes where they are ‘virtually’ handed back by returning keys and fobs provides a tax break, or holiday, whilst we are on lock down. However, this means that the car can not and is not used at all for a minimum of 30 consecutive days, during which the employer must formally withdraw the car and the employee must return the keys.

Where there is no car benefit there can be no private fuel benefit either, as the fuel benefit attaches to the car.

Even if a car benefit is not withdrawn the private fuel benefit can be. This does not need a physical return of the fuel card, but it will need a change of policy and employee agreement.

However, private fuel benefits are based on:

A full tax year calculation,
Which is then reduced proportionately if the car is unavailable for part of the year, and
Can also be reduced if free fuel is withdrawn in a tax year and not reinstated.

Nigel Morris, tax director, MHA

Q: Is the information published by HMRC regarding company car BIK included in the toolkit?

Yes. We have linked to the Fleet News story reporting the clarifications, which were explained by the tax experts at MHA, who have also provided expert advice to some of the other questions here.

Simon Turner, campaign manager, Driving for Better Business

Q: Can I ask my drivers to undertake additional training whilst they are furloughed? eLearning for example?

Yes. Furloughed employees can engage in training, as long as in undertaking the training the employee does not provide services to, or generate revenue for, or on behalf of their organisation or a linked or associated organisation.

Where training is undertaken by furloughed employees, at the request of their employer, they are entitled to be paid at least their appropriate national minimum wage for this time. Where the time spent training attracts a minimum wage entitlement in excess of the furlough payment, employers will need to pay the additional wages and can not claim that ‘top up’ as part of the furlough claim grant.

Nigel Morris, tax director, MHA

Yes. Furloughed employees can undertake training whilst being furloughed and this is a perfect opportunity to build on any training programmes that may have not had the attention they need previously. As these employees are still receiving their salaries (up to 80% government-funded and potentially topped up a further 20% by their employer) training is still acceptable under the furlough scheme and is arguably more focussed to undertake training with employees being at home and not having a myriad of other tasks to complete.

Kevin Curtis, managing director, Driving Monitor

Yes, and we would also recommend live online classroom training and telephone coaching.

Dr Lisa Dorn, research director, Driver Metrics and associate professor of Driver Behaviour, Cranfield University

Q: For car drivers who have been working from home for the last 3-4 weeks and probably for at least the next 3 weeks as well, can they now regard home as their permanent office and, if they have to travel into their "workplace" to collect essential files etc, can they regard this mileage as business miles and not private commuting mileage?

This is very unlikely. However, there are very complex rules relating whether a place is a temporary or permanent workplace including s=considerations on duration, necessary attendance and temporary purpose rules etc. for anti-avoidance reasons. This limited ‘enforced’ working at home needs to be considered in the context of the work location over the employment as a whole and also with regard to necessity to undertake work not at the employers premises. In the example there is travel to workplace, which would be ordinary commuting and does not make it possible to automatically class home as a workplace or permanent workplace. There may be additional amounts available for the costs of working from home though.

Nigel Morris, tax director, MHA

Q: Are you able to provide advice fact sheets that can be sent to drivers who have mothballed vehicles?

For vehicles under O-Licence This is contained in the advice provided by the Office of the Traffic Commissioner. Advice to Operators

FTA Policy Team

The Driving for Better Business COVID-19 Transport Toolkit has a range of resources to help with mothballing and then reinstating vehicles including tyre advice from Michelin covering bus, truck, car and van fleets.

Simon Turner, campaign manager, Driving for Better Business

Q: If drivers do training whilst furloughed, doesn’t this count as working time against their tacho and therefore they are not furloughed?

No, it shouldn’t. Furloughed employees can engage in training, as long as in undertaking the training the employee does not provide services to, or generate revenue for, or on behalf of their organisation or a linked or associated organisation.

Where training is undertaken by furloughed employees, at the request of their employer, they are entitled to be paid at least their appropriate national minimum wage for this time. Where the time spent training attracts a minimum wage entitlement in excess of the furlough payment, employers will need to pay the additional wages and can not claim that ‘top up’ as part of the furlough claim grant.

Nigel Morris, tax director, MHA

DfT will be issuing a guidance note on working time and drivers’ hours issues when furloughed – this point on the working time status of both voluntary and compulsory training whilst on furlough is one that FTA has asked for specific guidance. 

FTA Policy Team

Q: Can furloughed drivers check their vehicle or is this classed as work?

To be eligible for the grant, when on furlough, an employee cannot undertake work for, or on behalf of, the organisation or any linked or associated organisation. This includes providing services or generating revenue.

Nigel Morris, tax director, MHA

Q: Can I stop licence checking my furloughed drivers?

Personally, I wouldn’t. I don’t underestimate the need for businesses to cut unnecessary costs, however anything you let go now will need to be reinstated the moment you bring your drivers back. I imagine most fleet managers will be busy enough without having to remember to restart licence checks. Remember as well that there has been a massive increase in excessive speeding with traffic levels so low – I think licence checking remains essential.

Simon Turner, campaign manager, Driving for Better Business

Q: Please would you clarify what we can actually do with regard to our drivers not incurring BIK if they are not using their company vehicle?

As an employer, where you believe that the employee will not be able to use the car for 30 consecutive days due to lock down you should seek the employee’s agreement to the withdrawal of the car and the  ‘virtually’ return of it to you. You will need to show that the employee has returned the keys to the business premises and that you have received them. The employee can then go to their online tax account and amend the benefit provision section to reflect the withdrawal. You will also need to update your internal HR, payroll and benefit in kind records and systems to ensure the correct future P11D benefit in kind reporting and Class 1A NIC calculations are undertaken.

There will be a reverse process when the car is ‘reinstated’ and keys returned and the need to update HMRC and employer records for tax and NIC purposes again.

You need to think carefully however about the practicalities of this, as well as the health and safety aspects of a vehicle being outside an employee’s home or on their driveway and any potential issues with moving the vehicle in case of emergency or for emergency services access, as well as general maintenance. This may need the support of your fleet management provider and or lease provider to ensure that proper duty of care is applied and unnecessary impacts on the vehicles or services are avoided which may result in additional costs or charges for the business e.g. recovery call outs, flat batteries, flat tyres, seized brakes etc.

Nigel Morris, tax director, MHA

Q: Would you endorse the policy to issue driver declarations to drivers who have been furloughed to disclose any other work they have carried out as it may impact on their return to work?

Drivers who work for another employer whilst furloughed should report any working time to the original employer; we hope that expected advice from DfT will make this clear.

FTA Policy Team

Vehicles

Q: If you have missed or extended your PMI, how do you go about booking them in to a ATF (Authorised Testing Facility) assuming they will be very busy or even closed to take the booking?

You need to be prepared and get the vehicles booked in as early as possible, or as soon as your local ATF reopens. Alternatively you could look at mobile technicians although their availability may also be stretched at the current time.

Peter Golding, managing director, FleetCheck

Advice on extending and freezing/unfreezing PMIs has been provided by the Office of the Traffic Commissioner.  There is also a link to this guidance from the Driving for Better Business COVID-19 Transport Toolkit.

FTA Policy Team

Q: Are Insurance companies looking at reducing premiums due to less risk with vehicles being off the road?

Some insurance companies are looking at this - the BBC reported that Admiral are giving all their private motorist customers a rebate, and that others were expected to follow suit, in recognition of the lower payouts and therefore lower costs for the insurer. This may be different in fleet with many commercial fleets still operational so you will have to discuss individual circumstances with your insurer.

Simon Turner, Campaign Manager, Driving for Better Business

Q: Have the LGV safety inspection intervals been extended?

Yes. The Driving for Better Business COVID-19 Transport Toolkit contains a link to the Traffic Commissioners' advice for operators who are unable to maintain PMI intervals

Peter Golding, managing director, FleetCheck

Q: What are insurers doing to allow company vehicles to be used for NHS voluntary work?

Many non-essential companies have adapted their businesses to support the national emergency either on a commercial or a voluntary basis. You would need to discuss the specifics with your insurer and ensure they are aware of any change in use.

Simon Turner, campaign manager, Driving for Better Business

Q: Are the lease and rental companies providing any assistance to stand-down vehicles?

Many companies are doing their best to support customers as best they can but every fleet is different. You will need to discuss your individual circumstances with your provider.

Peter Golding, managing director, FleetCheck

Leasing companies are having individual discussions with customers about formal and informal extensions of vehicle contracts at no additional cost, with pro-rata extension of mileages. Some have also adapted their SMR processes to help keep essential fleets running. Meanwhile, rental companies have taken action to improve their cleaning processes among other actions -  

Stephen Briers, editor-in-chief, Fleet News

Q: Are companies in discussion with their insurers to discuss vehicles that are mothballed and what support have the insurers provided in relation to the risk

Yes they are but you will have to discuss individual circumstances with your own insurer.

Simon Turner, campaign manager, Driving for Better Business

Q: What are your recommendations for keeping vans and cars in good operational condition with the batteries charged?

If you can, at least every couple of weeks, start the engine and run for around 15 mins to get up to operating temperature but don't leave the vehicle unattended. This will provide some charge top up. Move the car to prevent the tyre becoming flattened where it stands, and run the air conditioning too to circulate the gas.

Peter Golding, managing director, FleetCheck

Good practice would suggest that engines be run for 20 minutes every 2 weeks, if practical to do so. Tyres etc need to be checked prior to the vehicles use and it is recommended that an enhanced driver’s walkaround check be initiated before the vehicle/trailer is returned to service.

FTA Policy Team

View the DfBB and FleetCheck series of coronavirus videos

Access the DfBB Covid-19 toolkit

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