Operator licensing in the UK

What is an operator's licence?

An operator's licence is the legal authority needed to operate goods vehicles in Great Britain. A licence is issued by the Traffic Commissioner – the independent regulator of the commercial road transport industry; a Traffic Commissioner also has powers to take regulatory action against a licence holder where they fail to meet the expected standards of operation. This action includes curtailment (limiting or reducing the number of vehicles an operator is able to operate), suspension (temporarily stopping operations) or revocation (permanently removing an operator’s licence to operate commercial vehicles).


Do I need an operator's licence?

You need an operator's licence to operate vehicles above 3.5t maximum authorised mass (MAM) that are used to carry goods (eg anything not permanently attached to the vehicle) on public roads for trade or business purposes. This includes short-term rental vehicles hired for as little as one day.  

The operator's licence must be held by the persom, whether an individual or a company, who ‘uses’ the vehicle and this may or may not be the owner of the vehicle. The user of the vehicle can be: 

  • The driver, if they own it or if they are leasing, buying on hire purchase terms, hiring or borrowing the vehicle (eg a typical owner-driver operation). 

  • The person whose agent the driver is, eg whoever employs or controls the driver. 

This covers both 'own account' and 'hire or reward' operations.  

Additionally, under operator's licence legislation all holders of standard National Operator Licences must be professionally competent or employ someone who is professionally competent. The most popular method of demonstrating this is to hold a Certificate of Professional Competence. 

Read our guide to the small trailer concession change for operator licensing here, for those who operate small drawbar combinations for hire and reward (members only).

From 21 May 2022, operators of vehicles or combinations of vehicles and trailers between 2.5-3.5t MAM crossing international borders for hire or reward need a standard international goods vehicle operator licence to transport goods in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

This does not apply to operators who only transport goods in the UK or transport goods not for hire or reward. 


What types of operator's licence are there?

There are different categories of licence according to the use to which vehicles are put, these are:

Restricted licence

This allows the carriage of goods, but only on own account, within Great Britain and abroad.

Standard licence

This allows the carriage of goods for hire or reward in Great Britain (and also permits own account movements in GB and abroad).

Standard international licence

This allows the carriage of goods for hire or reward (and on own account) within Great Britain and abroad.

Northern Ireland

Find further information on Operator's licensing in Northern Ireland.


Triennial Review of the Traffic Commissioners

In 2016, the Department for Transport published its report on the Triennial Review of the Traffic Commissioners. The response broadly supported the continuation of the Traffic Commissioners and the existing operator's licensing regime in its current form but did outline some changes that the Government intends to pursue, including some which will require amendments to primary legislation. Read Logistics UK’s summary of the outcomes of the review: Department for Transport response to the Triennial Review of the Traffic Commissioners 

In parallel with the review, the Department for Transport is also investigating specific changes to the operator's licensing system: 

  • Establishing a single English or GB traffic area for national operators. 

  • Abolition of the operator licence windscreen disc. 

  • Review of bodies with powers of statutory objection to a licence application. 

A submission by Logistics UK regarding these three issues can be found here: Responses to Consultations. Following the conclusion of the Triennial Review we await any further progress on these issues from the Department for Transport.


Operating centre

The operating centre is defined as the base or centre at which a vehicle is normally kept. Operating centres must be specified on the licence before they can be used. The term ‘normally kept’ usually refers to where the vehicle is normally parked when not in use. This could, for example, be the operator’s depot or a customer’s premises. Care should be taken to ensure drivers avoid taking in-scope vehicles home at night, as it may cause neighbours to complain. If the vehicle is normally parked there without it being an authorised operating centre (note that a residential street would not normally be considered suitable), you could risk action against your licence. Members are advised to discuss such cases with the Member Advice Centre (0370 605 0000). 

Suitability of operating centre

The Traffic Commissioner must be satisfied that any proposed operating centre is suitable for that purpose – covering not only environmental acceptability but also the availability and size of the operating centre and the safety of the access from the public road. In deciding environmental suitability, the Traffic Commissioner must take into account:

  • The nature and use of land in.
  • The vicinity of the operating centre and the effect that granting.
  • The application would be likely to have on the environment.
  • The extent to which granting a licence, which will materially change the use of an existing (or previously used) operating centre, will harm the environment in the vicinity.
  • In the case of land not previously used as an operating centre, any planning permission (or planning application) relating to the operating centre or the land in its vicinity.
  • The number, type and size of the authorised vehicles which will use the operating centre.
  • The parking arrangements for the authorised vehicles which will use the operating centre.
  • The nature and times of use of the operating centre.
  • The nature and times of use of any equipment at the operating centre.
  • The number and frequency of vehicles which would be entering and leaving the operating centre.


How can I find out more information?

We provide a fully comprehensive Operator Licence Compliance Information Service (OLCIS) to ensure you are fully compliant with the operator's licence regulations.

Contact our Member Service Centre 03717 11 22 22* for more information.

You can also use the downloadable documents and links below for more information on operator's licensing.

*calls may be recorded


More information

The main purpose of the DVSA operators licence guide is to ensure the safe and proper use of goods vehicles and to protect the environment around operating centres.   

External links

Department for Transport (DfT)