Haulage companies and lorry drivers have been in the news recently, facing difficult trading conditions and suffering the consequences of the immigration crisis in Calais.
Not only has Operation Stack forced them to park their vehicles along the M20 and in Manston Airport in Kent, but they have also been forced to pay heavy fines, courtesy of the Home Office’s UK Border Force.
The fines which the haulage companies and lorry drivers have had to pay are levied under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which gives the Home Office the right to fine the lorry driver, and vehicle owner or hirer if an asylum seeker arrives in the UK concealed in a lorry.
The Home Office has the right to fine the driver and vehicle owner or hirer separately. Even if only the driver is fined, both the driver and the employer are jointly and severally liable to pay the fine. The level of fine which may be levied is determined by a Code of Practice, and depends on the specific circumstances.
The growing crisis has led to record levels of fines, which even prior to the current escalation had meant more than 3,300 penalties were issued in 2014/15, amounting to more than £4 million. The fines, which can be as high as £2,000 per migrant, are also levied separately for each asylum seeker found on board, rather than per incident.
When combined, the dangerous working conditions and risk of hefty fines are a strategic threat to the haulage industry. So what can haulage companies and lorry drivers do to avoid being fined? We’ve turned to Richard Howlett of Selachii LLP to find out more.
The UK government has issued instructions advising haulage companies on the vehicle security they should employ to avoid penalties. However, if a driver reports their suspicion that somebody is hiding in their vehicle, they and their employer will likely be fined if asylum seekers are actually found on board.
The first thing haulage companies and drivers must do is abide by the Border Force’s Code of Practice on vehicle security. Having an effective vehicle security system in place is a defence against being fined if the driver was unaware or had no reason to suspect there were asylum seekers on board.
Drivers and haulage companies should also be aware that they have a defence against fines if they were made to conceal the asylum seekers on board against their will.
If a fine is imposed, the driver or haulage company has 28 days to write to the Border Force objecting to the fine, or to appeal the fine in the County Court. Unlike an objection, an appeal means that the civil liability of the driver or employer is re-considered from scratch by a third party.
However, an objection could also lead to the fine being increased, while an appeal can lead to the fine either being cancelled, reduced, or upheld.
To minimise the impact of the crisis on your haulage business, follow the Codes of Practice on vehicle security, and consider whether you ought to appeal any fines you have received.