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The New VOLS System

Jan 25, 2017
Scott Bell, Solicitor with Backhouse Jones, looks at the new Vehicle Operator Licencing Service (VOLS) from the Office of the Traffic Commissioner (OTC).



We are often contacted by operators or new applicants who seem to be suffering that their application has gone into the long grass or that they are being requested to supply further information by the OTC before they will consider the application.  

Historically, an application would be processed between 9–12 weeks after the application was complete. However, apparently around 80% of applications received by the OTC are deemed to be incomplete which causes delays. This has a knock-on effect for all applications as time is spent by the OTC in dealing with these incomplete applications.  

How is the new VOLS different?   

The new VOLS system is an online application system and will work in a similar fashion to most other gov.uk website application services. For new applicants, you will be able to register to use the service and be designated a username and password for entry into the platform. For existing licence holders, you will be able to request a username and password for any designated or named persons under the existing licences. 

After gaining access to the application system, you will be greeted with a welcome page that will describe any current licences and any outstanding/incomplete licence applications. If you wish to make a new application there will be an option for you to click to start the process. 

The application system will largely mirror the current questions that form part of the current application forms, however, with the application being online it gives the system the ability to auto populate data from Companies House such as the Registered Name and Address but it will not auto populate director details. There are currently some additional questions, such as identifying who analyses your tachographs, and there are changes to the way in which some previous questions were phrased.  

The system also gives you the ability to upload documents for the OTC to review such as date audits, training certificates and other information that shows you are a compliant operator. The requirement to supply maintenance contracts has gone (however you are still required to have one in place and must be able to produce it on demand) and, it seems, the OTC will accept the uploading of bank statements rather than having to send in the originals.  

One of the key aspects of the system is to cut down on the incomplete applications, in that it will not allow you to submit an application unless it is complete. It also auto populates addresses from entering a postcode and it will not allow you to enter postcodes for operating centres in two different traffic areas onto the same application. 

VOLS on test 

From the testing that we have undertaken of the system, it does seem that it will produce a number of benefits for both operators and the OTC in streamlining the application process. The aim of central government is to reduce the application waiting time over the next few years to a period of around six weeks, however the OTC is confident that when the system comes online, operators using it should see an immediate improvement in the service time they are receiving.  

The OTC does intend that within two years it will have phased out all paper copies of the applications and intends to deal with matters such as licence renewals fully online. It is therefore key that all operators get used to the system and keep their contact details updated so that anything sent by the OTC is received by the correct person and dealt with in a timely manner.  

We would also recommend that in line with the plan to deal with five-yearly renewals of licences online, all operators diarise their renewal dates separate to the OTC system to ensure the renewal is not missed.  

We have previously highlighted that the new VOLS system will be compatible with Companies House data and that the OTC plans to run monthly reports to check that the directors of the company match those given on the licence. Despite this compatibility, it is still your obligation to inform the OTC of any changes to directors or company status within 28 days and therefore the OTC will give you a short period of time for you to notify it of the change before it sends you a nasty letter. Be warned, this will cast the spotlight on your operation and, therefore, please ensure that your Operator Licence is kept up to date.  

For companies holding a licence, we recommend that it is a re-occurring item on the monthly Board meeting minutes of any changes that you need to notify to the OTC. These should include director changes, contact details, maintenance contractors, registered office changes, so that you keep your licence up to date.  

Conclusion 

We have no doubt that when the new system comes online there are going to be some teething issues, however our overall impression of the system is that the data entry is very user friendly. However, as always with an application, it is not just simply the case of ticking the right box, but giving the OTC the correct and relevant information to allow it to determine your application in a timely manner.  

We have assisted numerous operators and new applicants over the years with dealing with applications through the OTC and we can continue to assist you with the new service. Please do take advice before completing an application just to ensure that you are giving the OTC the correct information. Further information from scott.bell@backhouses.co.uk.  

Do you have the right browser?

To get ready for the new system you'll need to have a modern and secure browser installed to access the new services and to make sure your data is protected. You can use any of the following browsers:  

  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 11; 

  • Microsoft Edge; 

  • Google Chrome 38 or later (52 or 53 recommended); 

  • Firefox 27 or later (48, 49 or ESR 45 recommended); 

  • Safari 7 or later; 

  • Mobile Safari 7 or later; 

  • Chrome Mobile 38 or later.  

 

Scott Bell 

Scott Bell is a solicitor at Backhouse Jones. He qualified in 2010 and specialises in road transport law covering goods and passenger carriage. Scott provides advice to assist clients with compliance within the regulatory framework of operators licensing, including advice regarding business structure.   

 

 

 

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