VOSA wish to inspect my vehicles and maintenance records. How should I prepare for this?

Current legislation permits an Inspector from VOSA to visit your premises at anytime and demand sight of vehicles and maintenance records. On occasions your local Vehicle Examiner may give you advance notice of the intended visit, which will allow you time to prepare.

Usually you will be asked to provide a sample of your vehicles for inspections as well as 15 months service and daily defect records.

How should I prepare ?

1. Have a full preventative inspection carried out on the vehicles to avoid any defects being detected which may result in a prohibition at the inspection. The VOSA Inspector may comment on the fact that the vehicles have clearly been "prepared for inspection" as opposed to being presented in their true state, but it is far better to avoid the possibility of prohibitions being attracted
2. Where possible offer your newest vehicles for inspection unless the Inspector specifically asks for your older ones
3. Clean and wash down the vehicles.
4. Scrutinise your maintenance records to ensure they are all in order. Many Operators instruct an outside third party with an expertise in Operator Licensing to carry this out
5. Ensure you have a 15 month run of service sheets, presented well in individual files for each vehicle. Where service sheets are missing see if your garage retained copies and insert copies or at the very least insert an invoice from the garage to show the service was done. Missing sheets can lead to VOSA assuming that the vehicle has not been serviced
6. Ensure you have a forward planning chart in place setting out at least the next service dates as well as mot and calibration dates (ie: other key maintenance dates)
7. Ensure you have a 15 month run of daily defect sheets (one for each day of operation), presented well in individual files for each vehicle
8. Ensure that your defect sheets have a section for " rectification of defects" which should always be signed off following repair. If not order new books.
9. Remember that omissions on service sheets and defects sheets such as no signature, tyre treads or brake tests not recorded are not items which you can go back and fill in at this stage. These are contemporaneous documents and you should always check these immediately after the event (ie after the service) and deal with any omissions at that time.
10. Ensure that all the records are readily available at the time of the Inspection and can be easily found in the Transport Office by the VOSA Inspector
11. Ensure that your transport manager or the individual who deals with the maintenance systems is present at the VOSA inspection
12. Be cooperative

The Inspection will be marked "UNSATISFACTORY" if defects are found on the vehicles or gaps in the service and defect reporting history are reported. These will be viewed as a potential breach of the Operator Licence to keep the vehicles fit and serviceable, to maintain them at specified intervals and to ensure there is s system for daily detection of defects. This finding will be reported to the Traffic Commissioner for disciplinary action quite often at a Public Inquiry.

Practical advice on managing your Operator Licence is provided by Elizabeth Caple, Transport Law Solicitor. elizabeth.caple@blueyonder.co.uk
0117 9075699 0781 441 4374

Clandestine Entrants - A concern of the past?

Clandestine entrants have been an inevitable issue for operators sending vehicles on to the Continent. However, on 22 September 2010 it was reported that the number of UK-bound immigrants caught by border patrols in Calais had fallen by 80% in the last year, according to Home Office figures. So is this issue becoming a concern of the past or is the falling numbers a testament to the efforts being made by hauliers?

The law requires all vehicle operators to take responsibility for protecting and actively checking their vehicles before crossing into the UK from mainland Europe. It forces operators to have effective systems in place to prevent clandestine entrants (a person who hides in or on a vehicle as it enters the UK with the aim of avoiding or attempting to avoid immigration controls) gaining entry to their vehicles.

Where an operator fails to have an effective system in place or fails to operate its system properly, the UK Border Agency ("UKBA") can impose a civil penalty of up to £2,000 for each clandestine entrant found upon the operator and the driver.

Operators and drivers must work together by implementing and following compliance systems (examples are suggested by UKBA on their website). If systems are followed, everybody will benefit from keeping penalties to a minimum. Operators should be particularly vigilant of these systems as they can be held responsible to pay driver penalties as well, resulting in a potential liability of up to £4,000 per entrant!

Last year, many hauliers commented to DWF that there seemed to be more stringent policing of the UK borders and it was felt that an increasing number of penalty notices were being issued. This perception was backed-up by figures released showing that the number of penalty notices issued to drivers and hauliers for harbouring clandestine entrants increased by 90% in 2009. The revenue from the penalties raised was £1.6million, only £100,000 more than in 2008 (£1.5m), which could indicate lower level penalties being imposed last year as compared to 2008.

Home Office figures show that between October 2008 and September 2009 the number of entrants caught trying to cross the channel illegally from Calais was 24,201. However, the latest news from 22 September 2010, is that in the last year (which has seen a huge crackdown from authorities) that number has fallen to 5,369.

Not only are there less clandestine entrants being caught trying to cross UK borders, but the UN High Commission for Refugees ("UNHCR") now estimates that the number of migrants based in Calais has fallen to around 150, and the those along the north coast of France are down to around 500. Only last year, one camp in Calais, known as "the jungle", housed over 1,000 immigrants alone, before the French police closed it down.

The UNHCR's Calais representative told Sky News that migrants complain that they are being arrested repeatedly, sometimes several times in the same day. He went on to say that whilst the UNHCR understands the need for arrests, they need to be carried out in a way that respects peoples' rights.

These recent press references to clandestine entrants' human rights will only cause further irritation to international hauliers. Often when articles are written on this immigration issue in the general press, the focus can be on the living conditions of migrants in areas such as Calais, who often create makeshift camps and receive assistance from charity organisations. Our clients tell us that it is disappointing that there is regularly a distinct lack of stories of the price that hauliers have to pay for this current situation; hauliers being the forgotten victims of this problem, as they have to pay penalties when they fall victim to an unwanted hitchhiker.

With illegal immigrants being regularly dispersed by French Authorities from Calais, hauliers can be affected anywhere in Northern France. It is no longer the case that a vehicle will be safe if the driver parks up outside Calais to takes his legally required daily rest period as clandestine entrants are finding their way into HGVs some 50 to 70 miles away from Calais. Traffickers are now so professional that even where an HGV has a TIR cord/padlock etc, they are gaining entry by cutting cords/locks and gluing them back together so that drivers cannot, on visual inspection of their trailer, detect a breach in their vehicle security.

An alternative situation that hauliers can find themselves in is where, once a driver has entered the UK, they hear banging in their trailer which can indicate the presence of clandestine entrants. The driver/haulage company is then faced with an impossible situation whereby if they do the right thing and they contact the police to alert them to the possibility of clandestine entrants being in their vehicle, they are likely to be fined for this and their record could be tarnished as a result. Therefore, hauliers are now increasingly being put in a position where they feel that the best course of action for them is for their driver to open the trailer and walk away from the vehicle leaving the clandestine entrants to escape and enter the UK freely. This begs the question, how can this be right?

It is undeniably positive news to hear that there has been a reduction in the number of clandestine entrants being found entering the UK. Whilst the press may report on "a concerted effort of UK and French authorities to stop illegal immigration through the port", perhaps the success from these figures should lay at the door of the UK haulage industry? The more improved haulier's prevention systems become, the harder it is for people to gain access to their vehicles. Perhaps this is the deterrent behind the reduction in the presence of clandestine entrants?

For further information and advice on preventative steps to protect your business, please contact Vikki Woodfine of DWF Regulatory team on 0161 603 5060 or alternatively email victoria.woodfine@dwf.co.uk.