Operator licensing in the UK
What is an operator's licence?
An operator's licence (or O licence) is the legal authority needed to operate goods vehicles in Great Britain. A licence is issued by the Traffic Commissioner – the independent regulator of the commercial road transport industry; a Traffic Commissioner also has powers to take regulatory action against a licence holder where they fail to meet the expected standards of operation. This action includes curtailment (limiting or reducing the number of vehicles an operator is able to operate), suspension (temporarily stopping operations) or revocation (permanently removing an operator’s licence to operate commercial vehicles).
Do I need an operator's licence?
You need an operator's licence to operate vehicles above 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight (gvw) that are used to carry goods (i.e. anything not permanently attached to the vehicle) on public roads for trade or business purposes. This includes short-term rental vehicles hired for as little as one day. Operator Licence Awareness Training will help you understand all the regulations involved and how to implement them directly on a day-to-day basis.
The operator's licence must be held by the person – whether an individual or a company – who ‘uses’ the vehicle and this may or may not be the owner of the vehicle. The user of the vehicle can be:
the driver, if they own it or if they are leasing, buying on hire purchase terms, hiring or borrowing the vehicle (eg a typical owner-driver operation)
the person whose servant or agent the driver is – ie whoever employs or controls the driver
This covers both 'own account' and 'hire or reward' operations. Still unsure? Take a look at our operator's licence decision tree.
Additionally, under operator's licence legislation all holders of standard National Operator Licences must be professionally competent or employ someone who is professionally competent. The most popular method of demonstrating this is to hold a National Certificate of Professional Competence.
Read our guide to the small trailer concession change for O licensing here, for those who operate small drawbar combinations for hire and reward (members only).
What types of operator's licence are there?
There are different categories of licence according to the use to which vehicles are put, these are:
This allows the carriage of goods, but only on own account, within Great Britain and abroad.
This allows the carriage of goods for hire or reward in Great Britain (and also permits own account movements in GB and abroad).
Standard international licence
This allows the carriage of goods for hire or reward (and on own account) within Great Britain and abroad.
Find further information on Operator's licensing in Northern Ireland.
What is FTA doing?
FTA continues to support its members in ensuring that the regulatory system for commercial vehicles in Great Britain maintains high standards of vehicle safety and fair competition in the industry whilst making sure that the regulatory burden upon compliant operators is minimised.
In Summer 2016, the Office of the Traffic Commissioner launched its online service for operators to manage their operator's licences – Vehicle Operator Licensing (VOL). FTA members can log in to see a demonstration of the system: Vehicle Operator Licensing
To allow a truly paperless application, VOL uses gov.uk Verify – the Government’s online identity assurance system – for Directors to make undertakings and Transport Managers to make the Transport Manager declarations. There will remain, for the time being, the option of printing and signing undertakings and declarations for users who do not yet want to make use of Verify. More information regarding this can be found at: gov.uk Verify. An example of how a user who has registered with Verify will make the undertakings can be found here: Verify Success
Triennial Review of the Traffic Commissioners
In 2016, the Department for Transport published its report on the Triennial Review of the Traffic Commissioners. The response broadly supports the continuation of the Traffic Commissioners and the existing operator's licensing regime in its current form, but does outline some changes that the Government intends to pursue, including some which will require amendments to primary legislation. Read FTA’s summary of the outcomes of the review: Department for Transport response to the Triennial Review of the Traffic Commissioners
In parallel with the review, the Department for Transport is also investigating specific changes to the operator's licensing system:
Establishing a single English or GB traffic area for national operators
Abolition of the operator licence windscreen disc
Review of bodies with powers of statutory objection to a licence application
A submission by FTA regarding these three issues can be found here: Responses to Consultations. Following the conclusion of the Triennial Review we await any further progress on these issues from the Department for Transport.
How can I find out more information?
We provide a fully comprehensive Operator Licence Compliance Information Service (OLCIS) to ensure you are fully compliant with the operator's licence regulations.
Contact our Member Service Centre 03717 11 22 22* for more information.
You can also use the downloadable documents and links below for more information on operator's licensing.
*calls may be recorded
The main purpose of the VOSA operators licence is to ensure the safe and proper use of goods vehicles and to protect the environment around operating centres.
VOSA Operator Licensing Guide
VOSA Guide for Operators on convictions and penalties
Vehicle & Operator Services Agency (VOSA)
Department for Transport (DfT)