Driver Employment Agencies and Businesses

During the late eighties and early nineties, the thought of having to phone a driver agency filled the average Transport Manager with dread, it was in many cases an unknown area where there was little or no control. The fact that in today's market this is necessary, but it doesn't detract from the fact that real uncertainty leads to insecurity, and visions of one of your HGV vehicles being piloted by someone who may have just come off a night shift in some obscure factory, was an all too real possibility back then. 


Unlike today, many small driver agency or agency business operated with just a few drivers on its books, unfortunately, the key industry experience for these businesses were lacking, so we're very likely to be ignorant of its legal obligations. Equally so, the driver being supplied was either ignorant of the then drivers hours rules and the overall legislative requirements or just simply held a licence and used it to earn boost their income.  

The use of driver agencies has grown, and with operators opening of Regional Distribution Centres along the motorway corridors during the nineties, some towns along these corridors (such as the M4) became virtually impossible to recruit drivers unless the operator went to an agency that allowed the market to grow. 

At the start of the year, 2000 and the centralisation of the enforcement arena had really only just begun. And the Road Transport Working Time Directive didn't come in to effect until 2005. However, as early as 1990 the industry knew it had a major recruitment problem in Europe as well as in the UK and the reality was that it wouldn’t improve anytime soon.  

For the more adventurous breed of UK drivers, this gave them the opportunity of working for a foreign employer, driving modern up to date vehicles, being respected as a professional and earning better wages. Many British drivers took this route and they never looked back. 

So, where are we today? Has anything changed or improved for the better, and can you be sure you're getting a trained and responsible driver who will carry your company image in the same manner your own drivers do?  

Do Operators need to use Agency Drivers? 

A number of o licence operators will utter the words “I don’t (or won’t) use agency drivers”. Equally, a number of transport operator’s clients won’t accept an agency driver at the helm of a vehicle with their products in the back. For many other operators, they don’t have any choice, it is a necessity to do so and it is extremely unlikely they'll get away without doing so and at some point. During busy periods many find it necessary.  

Long gone are the days when driver agencies were associated with poor transport management, the requirement to use them today has become an everyday part of transport life, like it or not. However, it is possible to minimise the need for agency driver use, some transport operations being in a better position than others and have a more flexible workforce. However, the dependence on agency driver use for some comes from the operator client's were real-time deliveries are necessary and instruction are given late in the day for deliveries the following day - Planning this is complex, so its simpler to pick up the phone and pull in a pre-approved temporary driver without the need to reorganise the existing employed driver pools.

If you operate regular weekly multi-drop schedules, it is possible to drop a single route and pick it back up the next day, although it shouldn't become a regular practice just because one of your own has thrown a 'sickie'. However, it's not wholly about cost, it's got a lot to do with enhancing your service levels first and foremost, and based on this fact, your long-term costs probably won't suffer and neither will your image if you are perceived to be a reliable service focused operator. With this in mind, maintain a full workforce and place less reliance on agency driver use by employing your own relief drivers. To go down this route is merely simple mathematics based upon the number of day’s holidays per annum across the driver workforce as follows:

20 Drivers @ 20 days holiday P/A each = 80 weeks holiday. With ground rules for taking holidays usually being “no more than 2 off at the same time” your staffing levels can comfortably be covered by 2 permanent relief drivers (ignoring the 8 x bank holidays). 

However, this is not the whole story and other factors must be taken into consideration. 

To enable this system to work, holidays need to be on a first-come, first-served basis and spread throughout the year if possible, with say 1 week holiday taken in the first quarter, 2 weeks in the second and third quarters and 1 week in the last quarter of the year. It should also be the case that no more than two drivers are on holiday at any one time. If you are able to introduce a system such as this, there are distinct advantages, such as:

  • Holidays get booked in advance and not sprung on you at the last minute. 
  • Everyone knows where they stand. 
  • Peak periods are catered for. 
  • More control over your workforce. 
  • Your staff will maintain your company image in the manner you require. 
  • More control over paperwork, POD's, CMR's, driver card and VU downloads etc. 
  • Products don't get lost or damaged. 
  • Your drivers are more likely to look after your vehicles. 
  • Customers are happier, your reputation is enhanced. 

Taking this route may seem a big step, but in the long term, your company will benefit. Equally so, it gives you the real possibility of not having to use agency drivers at all, or at worst, very rarely. 

Freelance Drivers 

Another method to maintain total control of any out-sourced driver use is to use freelance drivers. Freelance drivers offer more advantages than using a general driver agency inasmuch as you only carry out one induction training period per driver; he/she can be treated as part of your own workforce thus taking part in all training programs, be kitted out in your company uniform especially if your requirement is for a temporary fixed-term period possibly due to a seasonal peak in trade. In situations such as this, freelance drivers (if treated with respect) are an added bonus as you both know each other, and importantly he/she knows how your company operates. 

Temporary Agency Drivers from Availabledrivers.Com

Whatever you do to minimise the use of agency drivers, a firm consideration needs to be that of cost. Where the employment of permanent relief drivers may appear extravagant, the cost of upset clients, vehicle damage and lost paperwork must also be taken into consideration.  

Your customers won’t accept the excuse that using an agency driver is a valid reason for their delivery not arriving, too many have used that one before you and it doesn't wash anymore. However, if your clients are aware you go that extra mile by employing relief drivers to minimise disruption to them that certainly won’t hurt the perception they have of you as a business. 

The Pitfalls for the unwary Transport Manager 

There are some poor driver agencies out there in just the same way there are some poor operators, this includes some agency branches that are owned by franchisees. Much of the problem finding good agency drivers comes from the old estate agent adage 'location, location, location,’ If you run a transport operation in the Midlands, the chances are you'll find a plethora of good driver agencies because of a competitive market serving a heavy transport operator density and invariably they understand the local requirements well. The opposite can be said of some areas of the South of England (especially along the coast), where there is little or no industry and certainly very few large transport operators due to the fact that being on the coast means no southern territory to service. 

The problems facing transport operators using agency drivers are all too common, and in many instances, it's not unusual for drivers being supplied who turn up with:

  • Little or no knowledge of the duties they are to perform. 
  • No idea how to load a truck being mindful of weight distribution. 
  • Little or no knowledge of current transport legislation regarding tachographs or drivers hours and RTD rules 
  • In the case of some older 7.5-tonne drivers, having the licence by default but not having driven more than a half dozen times in the last twelve months. 
  • Don't know/understand what a first use inspection or defect sheet is. 
  • In some cases, don't know how to use a digital VU. 
  • In some rare cases, don't have the correct category of license. 
  • In some cases, arriving for work looking like they've been dragged through a hedge backwards. 
  • Sometimes with an attitude that defies belief. 

Is it any wonder that driver agencies have got such bad press? Remember, Employment Agencies are governed by regulation just as much as you are, unfortunately, the enforcement body that governs you isn't quite as evident as perhaps it should be regarding the temporary driver supply industry. 

What can I do to ensure I get good agency drivers? 

The obvious answer is to find a reputable agency that does what it says on the 'box'.  

All driver agencies should be mindful that they do not recruit drivers for themselves, but for their clients, and in all cases, agency staff and its drivers must be customer-focused at all times.  

PSC Agency Drivers from Availabledrivers.Com

In order to achieve this, in-house training programmes should be developed by agencies which concentrate on training on all aspects of transport law applicable for their drivers in the same way that transport operators have to for theirs. 

It should be commonplace for at least one member of the agency office staff to have visited each of their clients and their client’s traffic office in order to gain first-hand experience of what is required. In turn, this should be sufficient to brief drivers on what is expected of them and give them as much information as possible to aid them and sustain a positive working relationship before they arrive on site. 

All driver agencies should vet their drivers before letting them loose on their clients. Basic things that should be undertaken by agencies include:

  • Tachograph use & EU Hours guidance/ training 
  • Loading/Unloading safe practices  
  • DBS Checks should, in our view, be mandatory 
  • In-depth interview and vetting of their working past, written and verbal references 
  • Road safety and knowledge of the local area 
  • Driver walk around checks training 

Driver agencies supplying van drivers should carry out similar checks as follows:

  • Loading/Unloading safe practices  
  • GB Domestic Hours guidance/ training 
  • DBS Checks should, in our view, be mandatory 
  • In-depth interview and vetting of their working past, written and verbal references 
  • Road safety and knowledge of the local area 
  • Driver walk around checks training – yes, even on vans 

As an operator, don't expect your chosen driver agency to give you the 'best thing since sliced bread', it's unlikely they will. It is for you to set the benchmarks properly in the first place by holding discussions with your chosen agency in your area. Points to remember here is to establish that the agency is able to meet your requirements as follows:

  • Good staffing of drivers of all license categories. 
  • Good knowledge and understanding of Road Transport Law - agency office staff as well as their drivers. 
  • Preferably that a key member of the agency office team has a National management CPC. 
  • Determine how they maintain drivers digital print outs and how they are returned to you. 
  • What training do they offer their drivers? 
  • Confirm that any specific requirement by you is catered for, such as Hiab licensed drivers, or drivers with Haz-Chem Qualifications. 
  • **Does the agency offer Driver Negligence insurance, what are the limits and are there any category of vehicles excluded? 
  • What are the agency rates? 
  • Discuss contract terms in depth. 
  • Ask who else uses their services and speak to the other companies who do. 

**What is Driver Negligence Insurance? 

Driver Negligence Insurance is not a standalone policy, it is an extension to Public Liability Insurance, which provides cover for damage to a client’s vehicles when the driver supplied by a recruitment agency has been at fault. It does not cover third party injury or damage to their vehicles or property due to road traffic accidents. 

Remember it’s a two-way thing. 

On a final note here, remember you have a role to play with regard to any driver provided to you by an agency, inasmuch as that you must give each new boy a thorough briefing and some induction training before letting he/she loose in your vehicle(s). If you fail to carry out this simple function, be it on your own head.  

Remember, a temporary driver on his first visit to your company is more likely to have an accident or make a mistake than your own staff. 

Further Reading 

The following should assist in giving guidance and further information, please use the links below.