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Hauliers are calling for driver agencies to be regulated by government in a bid to raise agency driver standards.

The call for greater regulation follows substantial rises in driver agency rates of around 20% over the past year, driven up by the driver shortage crisis, the IR35 tax reform and the introduction of pay parity last year.

Currently there is no requirement for driver agencies to be accredited to any government-regulated scheme, which hauliers argue is an oversight that undermines road safety by allowing agencies to avoid liability.

Lesley O’Brien (pictured), director at Freightlink Europe, is calling for a government-approved scheme similar to FORS for driver agencies. She told MT: “Anyone can set up a driver agency, with no knowledge of the Highway Code, drivers hours regulations, the working time directive, or tail lift regulations and with no obligation to ensure the driver is trained to a certain standard.

“This is a safety issue. If my drivers get it wrong we would be up before the traffic commissioner with our operator licence and our reputation at risk but right now driver agencies have no liability. I would like to see driver agencies also subject to Public Inquiry.”

Dave Patten group MD of Abbey Logistics echoed O’Brien’s views. He told MT: “This is an accountability issue. We pay a premium for this service, so we do not expect the bottom of the barrel.

“Agency rrates have gone up considerably - we are prepared to pay those rates but we should be able to expect properly trained, polite, clean, courteous, professional drivers who are accountable, take responsibility and get the job done.

“We need is a government-backed, audited, regulatory compliance scheme for driver agencies. Agencies should not be a necessary evil but a valuable service, with better controls, better service levels and a better safety culture.”

However, Kieran Smith, chief executive of driver agency Driver Require argues government regulation is unnecessary. He wants hauliers to help raise standards by requiring the driver agencies they use to join the Logistics UK Driver Agency Excellence Scheme (DAE). Smith took on the role of governance chairman of the scheme in October last year.

He said: “We are hearing increasing concerns from haulage companies about the quality of the drivers and service provided by their temporary driver agency suppliers.

“Regulation is not required because there is already a simple way for hauliers to address these concerns, this being to demand that their agencies undertake an audit to achieve the Logistics UK Driver Agency Excellence (DAE) accreditation.

“This is a rigorous test of the agency’s specialist driving knowledge, capability, processes and systems. In my view it’s a ‘no brainer’ for hauliers to ask for this because it costs them nothing and requires only a couple of lines to be inserted in their agency terms to put it into effect. In exchange they get a significant improvement in their agency quality and service levels.”