Applying for an O-licence

Who needs one?

Anybody who operates goods vehicles above 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight for commercial purposes on UK roads requires an O-licence - this covers hire or reward hauliers, businesses that run their own fleets (own-account operators), and local and public authorities. A licence is needed even for short-term rental vehicles hired for as little as one day. The best guide to this is the DVSA's guide for operators (GV74).

Who does not need one?

Privately run goods vehicles, such as those kept and run by vintage vehicle enthusiasts, do not require an O-licence. Crown vehicles are also excluded.

Also excluded is anybody operating small goods vehicles, defined as one with a gross plated weight of not more than 3.5 tonnes (or 1,552kg unladen if there is no plated weight).

Whose name needs to be on the O-licence?

The applicant should be the "user" of the vehicles. The "user" for operator licensing purposes is the owner of the vehicle, including hired or leased vehicles in his or her possession or the person who controls the use of the vehicles if this is not the owner. If the business is in the form of a company then it is the company who should be named as the holder of the licence. If it is in the form of a partnership, then it should be in the name of the partnership.

What types of O-licence are there?

There are three basic licences, as follows:

  • A restricted licence: this is restricted in the sense that it only allows you to carry goods on your own behalf, not for hire or reward. It is not restricted in the area it covers and you may operate your vehicles both in the UK and abroad.
  • A standard national licence: this allows the carriage of goods for hire or reward (as well as on own-account, if required) in this country. It also allows own-account trips abroad.
  • A standard international licence: this is the most comprehensive O-licence and allows carriage of goods for hire or reward or on your own account within the UK and overseas.

Are any vehicles exempt?

Yes. Small goods vehicles under 3.5 tonnes plated weight are the main exclusion, but there is also a long list of specialist vehicles that do not require O-licences, including the following:

  • farm tractors
  • threshers
  • forestry vehicles
  • snow ploughs
  • hearses
  • emergency vehicles (fire, ambulance or police)
  • vehicles with no permanent body, being used solely for test or trial
  • steam vehicles
  • recovery vehicles

For a comprehensive list check the Guide for Operators.

Where do I apply for an O-licence?

At present applications still have to be made by post. An application pack for the O-licence system is available from DVSA either by telephoning 0300 123 9000 or from the DVSA website. Regardless of which Traffic Area you are in, the address is the same as all administration has now been centralised at the office in Leeds. However, if you are planning to have operating centres in more than one Traffic Area, then seperate applications must be made. The address is:

DVSA Central Licensing Unit
Hillcrest House
386 Harehills Lane

The most useful forms on the DVSA website are GV74 (a guide for operators), GV79 (the application form itself), guidance notes on the GV79, GOL 6 (a model maintenance agreement between an operator and a garage agreeing to service their vehicles) and TM1G, the form on which the details of the transport manager must be completed.

How long beforehand should I apply?

At least 10 weeks before you need the O-licence to begin. If you urgently need to start operating then you should write to your TC and tell them and they may issue an interim licence. But they can only do so if you already have a full licence application already within the system. And an interim licence does not guarantee that you will get a full licence.

At present the central licensing unit appears to be experiencing delays and therefore it would be advisable to apply more than 10 weeks in advance of the licence being required.

How many vehicles should I ask to be covered?

Your O-licence should cover the number of vehicles you intend to operate, including trailers, plus a few extra to cover possible increases in business and emergencies, such as breakdowns. This extra number of vehicles and trailers is commonly referred to as “the margin”.

Do I have to renew my licence?

Under the continuous licensing system introduced in 1996 your licence is yours for life unless you surrender it, fail to pay the fees or break its terms and conditions. The Traffic Commissioner does however have the discretion to review the suitability of an operating centre every five years. They will take into account the operator's record and whether it has attracted any unwanted attention in making the decision whether to allow the licence to continue. Remember that the TC has the power to curtail, suspend or take away your licence at any time if you do not keep within the law.

What else do I need to do?

You are required by law to advertise your application for an O-licence in a local newspaper, so that anybody who owns or occupies a building or land nearby has the opportunity to object to your application, should they wish to do so. The GV79 O-licence application form contains a blank advertisement form.

You are advised to choose a newspaper in which other public notices regularly appear (such as notice of planning applications placed by local authorities) - the Central Licensing Unit can advise on suitable newspapers.

What laws govern the O-licence system?

The main legislation covering the O-licence system is the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995.

What are the current Vehicle VED rates?

These can be found on the following government direct websites:


Updated by Lucy Wood & Anton Balkitis
Freephone: 0800 046 3066

Leaseway Vehicle Rental in administration

The directors of privately-owned Glasgow-based Leaseway Vehicle Rental have placed the company into administration to protect its business and assets, and look for a buyer.

Comprising six sites across England and Scotland, a 13,000-strong fleet of light CVs and 225 employees, Leaseway Vehicle Rental has struggled in the past year to "service its existing financial obligations", according to a statement from administrators PwC.

Bruce Cartwright, head of business recovery services at PwC in Scotland and joint administrator with Laurie Manson and Ian Green, says the company's directors have considered "various options to deliver a restructuring solution that would provide a long-term viable business".

"Unfortunately, the directors have concluded that this will not be feasible and have taken steps to place the company in administration to protect the business and assets.

"Our immediate priority is to continue trading the business, ensuring that commitments to contracted customers are met," he says. "Throughout this period, we will work closely with the existing management team, employees across all sites, suppliers and customers to try and ensure that we achieve a positive solution."

Cartwright says PwC will also consider the option to sell some or all parts of the business. "Leaseway has attracted a large number of high quality customers that we believe may be attractive to potential purchasers. We would encourage any parties interested in acquiring this business to get in touch with us," he says.

Anyone interested should call 0141 355 4100, and ask for the joint administrators.