Solving the HGV Driver Shortage (update)
Will plans be enough for now and for the future?
The recent shortage of HGV drivers has caused major disruption across the UK. Many fuel stations have had to close or have experienced long queues. This is due to a surge in demand because of concern over potential fuel shortages arising from the of lack of HGV drivers available for deliveries. As well as panic-buying of fuel, supermarkets and restaurants have experienced major supply issues as a result of both haulage and factory worker shortages.
This driver shortage has been caused by a ‘cocktail’ of issues, but notably the Pandemic and Brexit. Many European drivers left the UK because working here involved additional border bureaucracy which had an impact on their income. Furthermore, many older drivers have now retired and there is a huge backlog of HGV driver tests pending due to Covid. Factors such as low wages, poor working conditions, inadequate training and testing of new drivers, and rising demand following the easing of restrictions have all contributed to the labour crisis. Changes to the IR35 tax rules earlier this year, designed to ensure off payroll workers’ pay the same rate of tax as direct employees, has not helped matters by making it harder to source agency drivers.
New Proposals and Measures
Following the end of EU free movement due to the Brexit withdrawal, UK companies are no longer able to access HGV drivers and factory workers under the EU immigration rules and must now apply for a visa to work in the UK. The introduction of the UK’s new points-based immigration system has made it more difficult to employ workers for ‘lower skilled’ roles. Non-UK nationals must now apply to work in the UK by either qualifying as a skilled migrant or under a specialist temporary work route, such as the seasonal worker scheme.
In response to this, it was reported that the Home Office would introduce a 3-month work visa as a temporary solution to the problem. 5000 visas would be made available for fuel tanker lorry drivers and 5,500 visas created for poultry workers to work in the UK between October and 24 December 2021. This would form part of a package of government responses designed to address supply chain issues affecting the UK, including longer-term measures to attract more new drivers. In addition to the new visa, up to 4,000 people will be trained as new HGV drivers to help tackle skills shortages and support more people to launch careers within the logistics sector. Nearly 1 million letters have also been sent to HGV licence holders, to encourage lapsed drivers back into the industry.
The New Visa
The details of the new visa have now been announced and only 300 short visas are set to be offered to overseas fuel tanker drivers, valid from October through to March next year. Furthermore, The Department for Business has reported that only 27 people have applied for this so far. The short-term visa for foreign food lorry drivers has also decreased to 4,700 and will last from late October to the end of February 2022.
Many industries believe that plans do not go far enough and lack immediacy. There is an estimated shortage of over 90,000 HGV drivers and many sectors are likely to suffer logistical issues in the future if this crisis continues. Worker shortages in both logistics and food production alone far surpass the number of visas being created by the Government. Furthermore, fuel tanker drivers need additional safety qualifications on top of their HGV licence to be able to transport chemicals. This increases the likelihood that the supply of UK drivers will remain inadequate, certainly in the short-term.
The Government’s reluctance to offer more of these temporary visas is fuelled by a desire to see a greater UK domestic workforce, instead of relying on overseas labour. They insist that visas will not be the long-term solution, and reform within the industry is vital.
The impact of the emergency visa will depend on the willingness of migrant workers to take up a relatively short- term opportunity. The limited take-up so far indicates the new visa may not be sufficiently attractive in its current form. A spokesman for the Road Haulage Association has said that these visas needed to last at least 12 months. Take-up may also be affected by the growing shortages of HGV drivers across Europe.
If Government initiatives fall short of demand, it is possible temporary visas may be extended or another type of visa will be introduced. However, many in the road haulage industry continue to urge ministers to add HGV drivers to the Home Office UK Shortage Occupation List to help provide an immediate and effective solution to driver shortages.
If you need advice on immigration or visa routes to the UK, please contact our Head of Immigration – Imelda Reddington at [email protected].