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The transport manager of a haulage business which lost its O-licence after relying on self-employed drivers – against the current advice of HMRC – has warned other businesses to seek clarification about the rules.

Tom Bridge said the traffic commissioner made an example of his company, Bridgestep in Skelmersdale, when he revoked the licence in the summer and that the punishment meted out was “incredibly harsh”.

Bridgestep found itself caught up in two of the industry’s most discussed issues this year when a bridge strike by one of its drivers led to a PI that exposed the way it was employing staff.

Bridge said the company was already in the process of moving its self-employed drivers onto full-time contracts because he was unhappy with the current set-up.

However, when one of his drivers took a wrong turning and struck a railway bridge just outside Stockport in January 2019, the company appeared before TC Simon Evans to discuss regulatory action.

In the written decision, the TC noted that Bridge “had no power to give to his drivers any instructions on which route was required to be taken by them, if they were to be regarded as having their self-employed status”.

TC Evans said this reliance on “purported self-employed contractors” was against the current advice from HMRC, led to the bridge strike and demonstrated “a seriously faulty or cavalier approach to business”.

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The company appealed, which was heard on 10 December, although the decision has yet to be published.

However, Bridge claimed that the tribunal found “certain failings” in the TC’s decision-making process.

In the meantime, the company was able to reapply for a new licence with all drivers now employed on a full-time basis instead.

But he also said the experience had taken a toll on his mental health and he was now looking to leave the industry.

“We hated the whole self-employed driver set-up,” he said. “But we struggled to find full-time drivers.

“There was no financial gain for us; we couldn’t rota them, couldn’t guarantee them work and couldn’t force them to start at a particular time.

“Everyone else says to us that they use agency drivers and self-employed drivers and none of them use route plans and they ask if this is what they have to do now.

“What I would say is: ask for real clarification about what is expected. It’s a case of covering your backsides with everything.

“We go over and above what is expected of us.

“After the [bridge strike] event we brought in Network Rail to do a seminar. We brought in extra height poles, guidance notes and policy sheets. People nicknamed me Mr Compliance!”

Bridge added: “I can’t go through this again. It’s made an operator who champions legal compliance think that he can’t do this anymore.”

The Upper Tribunal said the appeal decision is currently scheduled to be published during the second week of January.