The Senior Traffic Commissioner, Beverley Bell, recently reminded road transport operators of their obligations to notify a Traffic Commissioner of changes or events that may affect repute. In particular, she cites the need for notification of improvement notices issued by enforcement agencies, such as those issued by the Health and Safety Executive when visiting sites, requiring changes in working methods and procedures.
So, what matters do in fact need to be notified to the Traffic Commissioner by an Operator? After all, the issue of improvement notice does not on the face if it sound as though it needs notification: there may have been no court case, fine, accident or the like.
The legislation for goods and passenger operators does not anywhere set out an absolutely exhaustive or definitive list of each and every item or event that has to be reported. In some cases, things are more straightforward: there is a definitive list of criminal offence convictions and outcomes that assist operators to know what has to be reported, albeit not in the most easily digestible format. The matters notifiable vary slightly depending on whether there is a goods or passenger operator’s licence.
However, the Senior Traffic Commissioner Statutory Document No. 1: Good Repute and Fitness refers to other events that a Traffic Commissioner would expect to be informed of as matters which may have a serious impact on good repute. These include “recurring civil penalties and breaches of other enforcement regimes such as the Home Office Code of Practice on Preventing Clandestine Entrants". The latter is a very difficult area at the moment where there is huge frustration as to the unfairness of civil penalties being imposed on drivers and operators, transiting the Calais area in particular. The Traffic Commissioner expects to be notified of matters beyond more obvious things such as criminal court convictions and criminal fixed penalties, which are still often overlooked. The statutory guidance referred to above is to be amended to include enforcement/improvement notices to make this requirement clearer.
This is not an entirely satisfactory situation, as the extent of required notification reaches further. In the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995, there must be attached to every licence a condition requiring the licence holder to inform the Commissioner to any event which could affect repute within 28 days. There may be some situations where things may or may not be caught by this provision. Some enforcement agencies may take certain forms of action against operators, such as the issue of warning letters for alleged but entirely unproven and perhaps badly investigated breaches. How far do the tentacles of the notification requirement actually extend? What events could affect repute and which simply might?
The moral of all this is that Operators should not simply think that obvious things such as convictions and fixed penalties need notifying, but be alert to the fact that the ambit of the reporting requirement is much wider. If there are encounters with other government agencies then it needs to be borne in mind that they might well have to be notified. Over many years now there has been a changed approach to enforcement generally – whilst it used to be the case that criminal court proceedings were deployed as almost the sole method of enforcement by government agencies, it is now the case that this has been replaced to some extent by other means, such as civil penalty regimes, improvement notices, formal cautions or warnings.