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?

Generally, you need an operator’s licence if you use:

  • a goods vehicle of over 3.5 tonnes gross plated weight, or
  • a goods vehicle with an unladen weight of more than 1525kgs where there is no plated weight

to transport goods for ‘hire or reward’ or ‘in connection with a trade or business’, unless specifically exempt. Here, ‘goods’ means ‘goods or burden of any description’.

his 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. 

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.



There are approximately 28 different vehicle types and activities which are not subject to operator licensing including:

  1. police vehicles, fire engines and ambulances;
  2. tractors in certain circumstances;
  3. vehicles being held ready for use in emergencies by water, electricity, gas and telephone undertakings;
  4. vehicles being used for funerals;
  5. vehicles being used for or in connection with (or on their way to) snow clearing or distribution of salt, grit etc;
  6. recovery vehicles;
  7. dual purpose vehicles;
  8. showmen’s goods vehicles and trailers


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:


  1. Restricted licence - This allows the carriage of goods, but only on own account, within Great Britain and abroad. Goods cannot be carried for hire or reward under a restricted licence.

  2. Standard national licence - This allows an operator to deliver or collect their own goods at home or abroad and to carry third party goods for hire or reward in the UK.

  3. Standard international licence - This allows the carriage of goods for hire or reward (and on own account) within Great Britain and abroad.


Northern Ireland

Find further information on Operator's licensing in Northern Ireland.


How to get a licence

To apply for a licence you need to complete a Form GV79 and submit it along with an application fee.

The application must also be advertised in a local newspaper circulating in each place where you are applying to have your operating centres. This gives anyone owning or occupying buildings or land nearby the opportunity to make a representation against the application on environmental grounds.


Requirements for a licence

You will need to satisfy the traffic commissioner that:

  • You are a fit and proper person;
  • You have proper maintenance arrangements in place;
  • You have sufficient funds in place to keep your vehicles fit and serviceable;
  • You have a suitable operating centre;
  • You have proper arrangements to ensure the rules about drivers’ hours are adhered to;
  • For a Standard Licence, a CPC qualified person has continuous and effective responsibility for managing the transport operations of your business;



Operators can become confused over what is required of them under the terms of their Operator’s Licence. The Operator’s Licence essentially involves a series of promises and undertakings to:

  1. Maintain the fleet in a safe condition;
  2. Carry out and record the safety inspections at intervals specified by the operator in the original Operator’s Licence application;
  3. Ensure drivers carry out daily safety inspections and such inspections are recorded;
  4. Ensure vehicles are not overloaded;
  5. Ensure drivers do not speed;
  6. Ensure drivers comply with the domestic / European drivers’ hours rules and the fitment and use of recording equipment (e.g. the tachograph) comply with the regulations;
  7. Hold the requisite financial resources to carry out the above obligations (in particular maintenance);
  8. Hold the appropriate professional competence (this does not apply to restricted licences).


10 Simple Mistakes Operator’s Licence Holders Make

We come across simple mistakes, same administrative in nature, that licence holders make. They are, in no particular order, as follows:

  1. An Operator may hire a vehicle, perhaps on a long term contract, but the maintenance on that vehicle is undertaken by the owner of the vehicle. (However, the Operator does not specify the new maintenance provider by informing the Traffic Commissioner that this 3rd party is also undertaking the maintenance
  2. Assume an operator is on 6 weekly Pre-Maintenance Inspection (“PMI”) intervals. If a vehicle was used for 2 weeks after the last PMI and then is off the road for 8 weeks, some Operators assume that they have another 4 weeks of ‘road-use’ before the inspection is due. However, what they should do is undertake a first use inspection prior to the vehicle going back on the road.
  3. An Operator will receive a prohibition and then file it away without first investigating the root cause.
  4. An Operator may not look at their 6 weekly inspection sheets to check that defects are signed off as rectified when they have been rectified. Although the work has been done, Operators need to make sure the paperwork confirms that the work has been done.
  5. Again, with daily defect checks, if a fault is recorded by the driver then make sure the rectification work is recorded on the daily defect sheet. Make sure that it is signed off and dated. If an external contractor is used to do the repair work then it can be helpful to staple the invoice to the daily defect sheet.
  6. Operators can often fail to notify the Traffic Commissioner about a change in the company’s directors.
  7. Operators will often fail to notify the Traffic Commissioner about a notifiable conviction. This has to be done within 28 days of the conviction.
  8. Operators may apply to the Traffic Commissioner for an increase in their licence without first checking that their operation is being run compliantly. Operators should make sure they are compliant, perhaps through the use of an independent audit, before submitting the application.
  9. Operators shouldn’t rely on their external maintenance contractor to do their job properly. Operators should be permanently monitoring them to make sure paperwork is completed on time and correctly. PMI sheets should be returned with the vehicles.
  10. If a vehicle is off the road then place a VOR sign in the cab. It can often happen that a driver will take a vehicle out on the road without the company’s authority because no one has told him the vehicle is VOR’d and there is no sign in the cab.




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