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DVSA Desk-Based Assessments During Lockdown 3

20 January

Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, DVSA’s ability to undertake site visits for the purposes of both maintenance investigations by a Vehicle Examiner and/or traffic investigations (i.e. drivers’ hours, tachographs, load security, driver licensing and driver training) by a Traffic Examiner has been significantly reduced due to the various restrictions that have from time to time been in force across England, Scotland and Wales.

As a result of the latest national lockdown, we are seeing another increase in DVSA’s use of Desk-Based Assessments. Read on to learn what a Desk-Based Assessment involves, the common pitfalls for operators and our top tips for responding to DVSA.

What is a Desk-Based Assessment?

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of a Desk-Based Assessment, it is essentially a remote audit of your compliance systems.

You will receive a letter from DVSA requiring you to submit a description of your systems (using a specific form that DVSA will provide) and specimen documents to them for review.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, these requests are being sent to operators by email and you are required to submit the documentation and information requested to DVSA by email within a specified timeframe (usually 10 working days).

DVSA will then assess your systems and prepare a report identifying any shortcomings. You will normally (albeit, in our experience, not always) be provided with an opportunity to respond to DVSA’s findings (in the same way you would be given an opportunity to respond to a DVSA maintenance or traffic investigation).

DVSA will then prepare a report to the Traffic Commissioner detailing their findings with the very real likelihood – where there are any shortcomings – of a Preliminary Hearing or even a Public Inquiry.

When is a Desk-Based Assessment Used?

DVSA are primarily conducting Desk-Based Assessments in the following scenarios:

  • Following a roadside check of an operator’s vehicle that results in some action being taken against the vehicle and/or driver (e.g. the issue of a prohibition notice for a mechanical defect or the issue of an offence prohibition notice and/or fixed penalty notice for drivers’ hours breaches)
  • Following an application made by an operator to vary their Operator’s Licence (particularly where a large increase in vehicle authority is being sought)
  • At the specific request of the Traffic Commissioners – in those cases that have already been referred to Public Inquiry but the DVSA investigation that triggered the Public Inquiry is now some time ago, the Traffic Commissioners are requesting that DVSA use a Desk-Based Assessment to provide them with an update of the position

What are the issues?

In our experience, the level of detail included in the operator’s response to DVSA is key.  We find that, all too often, operators provide too little detail in their response and find themselves at Public Inquiry for issues that could have easily been avoided had the response to DVSA been more comprehensive.  We are regularly dealing with Public Inquiries where, had the operator completed the form more comprehensively and had there been some form of dialogue between the DVSA and the operator to discuss their systems and the documentation produced, there is a very real likelihood the Public Inquiry could have been avoided.

What do I need to do?

Our top tips for dealing with a Desk-Based Assessment are:

  • Deal with the request promptly. If you are going to struggle to collate the requested documentation and respond to DVSA within the timeframe provided, do contact DVSA to discuss this and request additional time.  We are finding that, where operators are unable to meet the (typically 10 working days) deadline, DVSA are being reasonable in allowing additional time for the operator’s response and documentation to be provided.
  • Ensure all the requested documentation is provided. This might sound straightforward, but believe it or not, in our experience, operators are routinely failing to provide DVSA with all the documentation that has been requested.  This inevitably results in unsatisfactory findings by DVSA and can lead to a suggestion that there has been a lack of co-operation by the operator.
  • Provide comprehensive details of your systems. In the context of a DVSA Desk-Based Assessment less really is not more! You need to explain your systems to DVSA in a sufficient level of detail to enable them to understand how the systems work in practice and how the documentation you have provided is in fact used.
  • If in doubt, seek advice.  Our eight-strong team of leading Regulatory Road Transport Solicitors is the largest of its kind and handles more Public Inquiries each year than any other firm.   We have a thousand first hand experiences of advising operators in connection with DVSA investigations and representing them at Public Inquiry.  So, if you are in receipt of a Desk-Based Assessment request, we are ideally equipped to assist you with the preparation of the response and hopefully avoid any potential Public Inquiry.

For further information, please call 01254 8282300 or email laura.hadzik@backhouses.co.uk

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