With the gig economy in full swing there’s no better time to be a van courier in the UK, but you still have to adhere to the strict rules and regulations governing your operations; plus be aware of your van or courier insurance liabilities at the same time. Here are some of the latest guidelines to help you stay legal in the UK van courier trade.
Becoming a Van Courier: It’s a Lifestyle Choice
Even in the age of email and digital telecoms, it’s worth remembering that in 2019 the Royal Mail delivered 10.27 billion addressed letters and 1.2 billion parcels in the UK. Ten years ago, delivery firm My Hermes had 2,500 couriers on its books - today it has 7,500 and expanding fast. From Land’s End to John O’ Groats, Hermes expects to have delivered a record 160 million parcels in the 12 months to February, boosted by 18 million during December.
Self-employed drivers now make up between 5-8% of UK logistics workers, with one of the most rapid increases in the group known in the sector as ‘lifestyle couriers’. Lifestyle couriers often have previous delivery experience and sometimes choose to work at weekends as an additional income source. With the rise of online purchases, some lifestyle couriers deliver around 70 parcels a day from the back of their van.
You and Your van
Before you start your van courier business, let’s look at some of the basics you’ll need:
Keeping your van in a condition that’s safe to drive.
A daily walkaround check can avoid the pitfalls of bald or flat tyres, a dirty registration plate or broken lights. You can be fined up to £2,500 and get three penalty points for using a van in a dangerous condition and this could affect your van insurance too.
What is your vehicle classification?
Vans used for hire or reward come under a range of commercial vehicle classifications based on their gross vehicle weight but are generally classed as LGVs. All vans with a gross vehicle weight of less than 3.5 tonnes are categorised as either Class 4 or Class 7 under the MOT scheme.
Any van with a gross vehicle weight of more than 3.5 tonnes comes under the authority of a goods vehicle operator’s licence, bringing greater regulation and cost implications. Such a licence includes a requirement to ensure various compliance systems are in place which will satisfy the Traffic Commissioner.
You can drive a van up to 3,500kg if you have a standard car driving licence but you must make sure your van is always properly insured, taxed and MOT’d and you have documentary proof of this to show the authorities. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) stops approximately 10,800 vans each year as part of its targeted roadside checks at a cost to their owners and operators of up to £4,000 per day per vehicle.
Watch Your Weight and Your Speed
Your van has a maximum weight allowance when it’s loaded. This is called the ‘design gross weight’, which you can find on your van’s vehicle identification number (VIN) plate.
The weight limit includes: the van itself, the driver and any passengers, the fuel capacity, and the weight of the load. You can check your van weight at a local weighbridge. If you overload your van you can affect its performance and safety and can be fined up to £300 or get a court summons if your van exceeds its maximum permitted axle weight.
You must have a goods vehicle operator licence if your van and trailer is more than 3,500 kg or the total unladen weight of the van and trailer combined is more than 1,525 kg. You won’t need an operator’s licence if your trailer’s unladen weight is less than 1,020 kg and you only carry your own goods.
Remember that vans have lower speed limits than cars and car-type vans:
Type of van Built up area* Single carriageway Dual carriageway Motorway
Van 30 mph 50 mph 60 mph 70 mph
Car-type van 30 mph 60 mph 70 mph 70 mph
Van & trailer 30 mph 50 mph 60 mph 60 mph
*The 30-mph limit normally applies to all traffic on all roads with street lighting unless signs show otherwise. You can be fined up to £1,000 (£2,500 for motorway offences) and get three to six penalty points for speeding.
You should also check your driving licence information to make sure you’re allowed to tow a trailer, which is covered in our blog A Guide to Towing and Trailering (link).
How Long You Can Drive For?
You must follow the rules on how many hours you can drive and the breathers you need to take. If you drive a van for business for longer than four hours a day, you must follow the UK rules on drivers’ hours. They outline your working hours and the rest periods you must take. You can be fined up to £300 for exceeding daily driving limits.