HGV Driver Shortage

The UK haulage sector has faced a chronic shortage of HGV drivers over the last 12-18 months, which has had a crippling impact on the industry, which continues to affect supply chains. It has been referred to as ‘the perfect storm’.

As a result of the ongoing HGV driver shortage we have seen empty shelves across the country and felt the impact even more when there were insufficient drivers to transport petrol and diesel to our forecourts in the summer of 2022.

But what events have conspired to create this problem? Read our article to find out more.

Why is there a shortage of HGV drivers?

The Road Haulage Association estimated earlier in 2022 that the current shortage of HGV drivers in the UK stood at 50,000.

driver shortagesThis is a staggering figure, which can largely be put down to the following factors:

  • An aging workforce reaching retirement age
  • The loss of EU drivers
  • Covid-19 pandemic related economic shock and training delays

Industry insiders also recognise that the job involves a lot of hard work, is less well paid than it used to be and involves often unsociable hours.

However the problem of HGV driver shortages is not a recent phenomenon. Logistics UK estimates that there was already a shortage of around 76,000 drivers before the world knew anything of Covid-19 or Brexit.

It is important to point out that ONS Labour Force Survey figures from May 2022 suggest that the number of HGV drivers in employment is not falling as significantly as in previous quarters, leading to cautious optimism that government and industry intervention is being effective.


Problem: An aging workforce

It has long been known that the HGV driver sector has an aging workforce. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) the average age of HGV drivers is 55 years old, and the Road Haulage Association suggests that at present, less than 1% of drivers are under 25.

In fact the number of drivers over the age of 50 was seen to be greater than those under 50 in 2019 for the first time since records began (ONS). This clearly illustrates that the rate of retirement has been rising for some time.


How will this be fixed?

hgv boot campsIndustry and government backed HGV skills boot camps were introduced earlier in 2022 to begin to tackle the training backlog. These have been consistently oversubscribed with waiting lists kept by all training providers.

As a result the government has announced that a further 4,000 places will be available via the HGV skills boot camps in 2023.


Problem: The loss of EU drivers

EU drivers have long played a significant part in the UK’s HGV driver workforce. ONS figures indicate that the number of HGV drivers in the UK has remained reasonably steady at around 300,000.

Within this figure the number of EU drivers rose sharply between 2010 and 2017 from 10,000 to 45,000.

This increase has been crucial and until recently enabled the industry to cope during periods of increased demand.

The loss of EU drivers can be blamed in part on post-Brexit changes to immigration rules, which took away the right for many foreign workers to live and work in the UK.

Constant Brexit paperwork and customs procedures have undoubtedly made work in the UK less attractive to EU workers, however the pay and working conditions of HGV drivers in the UK are also to blame.

According to the publication ‘The Grocer’ in an article published in September 2021, “working conditions are arguably superior in France, Germany and Belgium through such laws that make it illegal to work on Sundays”.

However, whilst numbers of EU drivers working in the HGV industry have declined by around 12,500 since the early 2020 (Source ONS) this figure will also include drivers that opted to return home during the Covid-19 pandemic and decided not to return to the UK and is only around 18% of all drivers that have left the HGV industry in the UK.


How will this be fixed?

At present, temporary visas are advertised as and when they become available. These are often only valid for a number of weeks and don’t tend to be attractive to HGV drivers from the EU.

The personal and financial cost of leaving a home country and moving to the UK is not viable for the prospect of only a few weeks of work.

In order to make working in the UK an attractive prospect for European HGV drivers the onus lies with the UK government to issue longer-term visas to make it worth EU HGV drivers coming to work here.


Problem: Covid-19 pandemic impacts

The HGV industry, as with all sectors was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Lockdown restrictions that were imposed on the country led to the cancellation of HGV driver training courses and DVSA driving tests for over a year.

Between 2015-2019 there were approximately 25,000 newly trained HGV drivers each year which largely offset the loss of drivers due to retirement and leaving the industry.

Alongside the pause of HGV driver training and testing, the impact of lockdown restrictions saw a huge increase in demand for online grocery orders.

Supermarket supply chains faced enormous logistical issues, and as a result many shelves were often bare. Demand for drivers in this sector increased, however alongside this was an equally significant drop in demand for HGV drivers in the hospitality sector as restaurants and pubs were forced to close their doors.

How will this be fixed?

Since the last lockdown was lifted in March 2021 the DVSA has made a considerable effort to reduce the backlog of HGV driving tests.

90% more HGV driving tests have been made available compared to pre-pandemic levels and a recruitment drive to gain a further 40 HGV and bus driver examiners began in June 2021.

Analysis carried out on data from the latest ONS Labour Force Survey shows that 26,388 practical HGV tests were carried out in the first quarter of 2022, representing a 43% increase compared with the same quarter in 2019.

Along with the additional 4,000 HGV skills boot camp places being made available in 2023, the increase in HGV driver testing will begin to supply more drivers to the HGV sector.


Existing issues in the HGV driver sector

It is clear that there has been a shortage of HGV drivers for many years, well before Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic had any impact. But what issues have played a part in this situation?


Problem: Poor work/life balance

HGV driver hours are often unsociable. With the advent of 24/7 deliveries at supermarkets this has never been more of an issue. A job as an HGV driver will usually involve long shifts spent away from home.

Increasing volumes of traffic on UK roads and seemingly endless roadworks (to patch up worn out roads across the country) can only add to drivers being away from home for longer and longer periods of time.

HGV driving is often therefore not attractive to younger drivers who don’t want to be away from their families.

If one parent is committed to long working hours, often on a changeable working pattern, it can make it very difficult for the other parent to manage the family and work in a job of their own.


Problem: Facilities en route

Facilities for HGV drivers on the road network across the UK are generally of a notoriously poor standard, especially when it comes to facilities for female drivers.

A lack of safe parking, clean wash facilities (that all too often are locked or out of order) and a general lack of respect are all issues that are quoted by HGV drivers.

With legally mandated rest-breaks it is crucial that more is done to ensure that there is enough lorry-parking across the UK’s road network so that drivers can take their required rest-breaks safely.

Drivers have the right to access safe and secure parking, good quality food and washing facilities, and this right isn’t being provided in enough places.


How will this be fixed?

In a 2022 article for Logistics UK, Sarah Watkins, Deputy Director – Policy Information there said, “There needs to be a renewed focus on the improvement of facilities for drivers across the strategic roads network, to provide the services and support which these key workers deserve during their working lives.”

The UK government has launched a review of parking and facilities and is investing significant funds from the National Highways’ Users and Communities Fund to improve roadside facilities such as security, lighting, showering facilities and eating areas.


Problem: Low wages

Whilst once considered to be a relatively well-paid job, the wages for HGV drivers have, in recent years, been seen to fall. Coupled with poor working conditions and unsociable hours, this has resulted in many HGV drivers choosing to leave the industry.

In addition to low wages, there are also substantial training costs that a driver must pay in order to become qualified.

HGV theory and driving tests costs around £270 including the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) elements. However the CPC must be renewed every 5 years, with a driver undergoing 35 hours of training in their own time and at their own expense.

Another requirement for HGV drivers is that they must undergo a medical test, again at their own expense and which must be repeated every time their licence needs to be renewed. The HGV medical consultation charge is set by individual GP surgeries and by private providers. You can find out more in our HGV medical article here.


How will this be fixed?

In order to address some of these issues the UK government is providing support for those on Universal Credit and jobseekers who have an HGV licence towards the cost of getting their CPC qualification.

The government is also looking at ways to better manage compulsory ongoing training requirements so that it doesn’t become a barrier to those looking to join or return to the sector.

In addition, the sector has seen increases to HGV driver wages which is helping to retain existing staff and attract new drivers. Advertised salaries for those qualified to drive the heaviest vehicles have reportedly increased by an average of 25% in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.


And finally…

Other measures introduced by the UK government to tackle the HGV driver shortage include:

  • Freezing vehicle excise duty for HGVs until 2023
  • Suspending the HGV road user levy until August 2023

The government and HGV industry are also working together to try to limit the negative effects of the driver shortage by:

  • Ensuring the stability of the fuel supply chain
  • Increasing the efficiency of existing supply chains

With these measures, the investment being seen in the improvement of facilities for HGV drivers and the beginnings of improved pay and conditions for HGV drivers being seen within the sector, it is hopeful that HGV driver shortages will become a thing of the past.

Preconceptions about HGV driving have damaged the reputation of the industry. HGV driving is a skilled job that carries a lot of responsibility. It’s high time that the sector was fully appreciated – most if not all UK industries rely heavily on HGV drivers and would grind to a halt without them.