After many years of discussions and abortive plans, the
government is proposing to introduce a road user charging scheme
for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), intended to come into force by
The UK road haulage sector has for some time been arguing that
it faces unfair competition from European hauliers: not only are
fuel prices cheaper in mainland Europe but foreign-registered HGVs
do not pay to use the general road network in the UK, whereas
UK-registered HGVs frequently pay charges or tolls in other
European countries. Moreover, unlike UK-based hauliers who pay UK
road tax and fuel duty, foreign hauliers who refuel their vehicles
across the Channel contribute nothing towards the maintenance and
improvement of the UK road network.
In this context successive governments have considered measures
to 'level the playing field' for UK hauliers in the form of
a lorry road user charge. This is complicated by the fact that any
such scheme must comply with the relevant European legislation, the
'Eurovignette Directive' which aims to safeguard fair
competition in haulage within the European Union and sets limits on
the type and levels of charges that can be introduced. In
particular the Directive means that a scheme cannot lawfully
discriminate between UK-registered vehicles and vehicles from
elsewhere in the EU.
Consultation on the latest proposals for a lorry road user
charging scheme, which reflect a Coalition Agreement commitment to
work towards a system of charges to ensure a fairer arrangement for
UK hauliers, closed in April of this year. The Government has not
yet formally responded to the consultation but the proposals have
been broadly welcomed by groups such as the Freight Transport
Under the Government's current proposals a road user charge
would apply to both foreign and UK-registered HGVs but UK hauliers
would be compensated for the increase in their costs, with the most
likely mechanism being a reduction in Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). A
reduction in VED to the minimum permitted by the Eurovignette
Directive would mean 94% of the UK HGV fleet would not face an
increase in their overall cost burden.
The charge would apply to individual HGVs (not their operators)
of 12 tonnes and over driving on any road in the UK and would vary
in amount according to vehicle type, weight and number of axles,
ranging from £85 a year for the smallest HGVs up to
£1,000 a year for the largest. Keepers of UK- registered HGVs
would pay the charge for the same period and in the same
transaction as VED, whereas foreign-registered HGV operators would
be able to pay daily, weekly, monthly or annual charges. The daily
rate would be up to £10 a day (the maximum permitted by the
Eurovignette Directive) for large HGVs, which are estimated to
account for over 90% of foreign-registered HGVs using UK roads. At
this stage the rate is proposed to be calculated according to the
VED band of the vehicle, but the government has stated its aim to
consider charging by reference to emissions levels once the scheme
has been introduced.
Administration and Enforcement
The Government intends to contract with a private-sector company
to administer the scheme insofar as it relates to foreign HGVs. The
charge would be paid online or at points of sale on or near the UK
border, such as at ports or on ferries, with the intention that the
charge would have to be paid before a foreign-registered HGV could
drive on a UK road. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
would administer the system for UK-registered HGVs, alongside the
collection of VED (ie payment of an annual or six-monthly
Payment of the charge would be enforced by the Vehicle Operator
Services Agency (VOSA) which is currently responsible for checking
UK and foreign hauliers' compliance with various regulations on
road safety, drivers' hours and the like. A database of
vehicles that have paid the charge would be maintained by the
company contracted to administer the scheme and, by reference to
that database, VOSA could check compliance with the scheme - no
physical permit would be required.
Primary legislation will be necessary to introduce a lorry road
user charge. The government intends to introduce a Bill into
Parliament in the session which commences in May 2013 with a view
to bringing the scheme into force before the end of the current
Parliament (May 2015). Before such a Bill is introduced further
consultation on changes to VED structures may also be required.
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