Why the Taylor review may see more employers fall into the ‘grey fleet’ trap

Uber and other platform-based businesses could become responsible for managing and maintaining huge numbers of vehicles, says Simon West-Oliver

The self-employed status of more than one million UK-based ‘platform workers’ means they do not have access to statutory holiday entitlement, statutory sick pay or an auto-enrolment pension. What’s more, their employers don’t have to pay national insurance contributions on their highly flexible workforce’s pay.

However, this status may be about to change. Last year’s Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices suggested that gig economy workers be known as ‘dependent contractors’ who should be able to claim key employment rights. We are seeing a rash of legal cases linked to the blurring fault line between self-employed and full employment status, which many employment contracts now illustrate. 

Many of these cases have been covered in some depth in People Management and elsewhere, so I will set aside speculation on whether Pimlico Plumbers will be able to get the recent UK Supreme Court judgment overturned on appeal. But clearly the tide is moving against gig economy-style employers in the UK. 

If platform-dependent workers do gain dependent contractor worker status, it’s not much of a leap to argue that the vehicles those workers use while discharging their duties will become the responsibility of those work platforms. Interestingly, most platform workers today are driving goods, spare parts and/or people around using their own vehicles. In other words, the likes of Uber could find themselves responsible for some of the largest so-called ‘grey fleets’ in the country.

A grey fleet vehicle is defined as being owned and driven by an employee for business purposes. The qualifying worker is reimbursed on a ‘pence per mile’ basis for using their vehicle on business journeys. And a principal consideration is that transport-based work platforms could become responsible for making sure the vehicles their workers are driving are roadworthy, and have valid insurance for business usage, up-to-date MOT and road tax. 

They will also need to monitor their dependent contractors’ driving licence status, and determine whether they have the right licence to drive the vehicle they are using, and whether they are driving safely and taking sufficient breaks during long journeys. They need to know immediately if they’ve been banned from driving, and whether they’ve passed an eye test recently.

The law is clear: when workers use their own vehicles for business travel, their employer is not absolved from duty of care responsibilities. This means grey fleets must be managed as effectively as company-owned or leased vehicles. Failure to do so exposes employers to penalties, prosecutions or even corporate manslaughter charges in the event of their workers’ vehicles being involved in a fatal accident.

The British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association makes it clear in its ‘Getting to grips with Grey Fleet’ guide that businesses with large grey fleets naturally expose their companies to large legal risks, including a higher likelihood of being found responsible for the use of a vehicle that is inappropriate for the business use it is being employed for.

In a recent study by Lex Autolease, 41 per cent of employers surveyed admitted to being not fully aware of the employer duty of care regulations within the Health and Safety at Work Act and how they impact on the grey fleet. 

Recent studies looking at the state of the UK’s grey fleets chime with concerns that will be raised about government action on the recommendations contained in the Taylor review. They suggest organisations that operate on grey fleet models urgently review and reform their procedures to ensure they comply with laws regarding employer responsibilities for employee-owned vehicles.

However, what is also clear is that work platform businesses are run by people who are, first and foremost, used to running technology businesses. They’ve got ahead by creating highly available online platforms that rapidly connect people with an array of tasks that need to be completed in a timely manner.

Platforms may not take kindly to being told they need to make sure all their drivers’ vehicles are in great working order. But it won’t be long before we see test cases in this area too, if platforms don’t address their grey fleet risk exposures.

Simon West-Oliver is director of sales and marketing at Drive Software Solutions