Operator licensing (O-licence)

Who’s affected?

Any user of a vehicle over 3.5 tonnes gross plated weight (HGVs). For hire and reward this includes the weight of trailers; for own-account business or trades, a trailer of less than 1,020kg unladen weight is not included. There are some exemptions to the need for an O-licence but it is incumbent upon the user – either the owner or hirer of the vehicle, or the person paying the driver – to check.

What do the regulations say?

Licensing provisions can be found in the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995, Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Regulations 1995, Road Transport Operator Regulations 2011 and Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) (Fees) Regulations.

There are three types of licence:

  • Standard international, which allows you to carry your own goods or other people’s goods in the UK or abroad. The operator and transport manager must both hold an international Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC). Vehicles must carry Community Licences within the EU.
  • Standard national licence, which allows you to carry your own goods in the UK or abroad and others’ goods in the UK. Operator and transport managers must hold the UK CPC.
  • Restricted licence, which allows you to carry your own goods. It does not require a CPC.

Each licensed operation must have at least one transport manager holding a relevant CPC who shows “effective and continuous management” of the entire fleet.

Restricted licences do not require the CPC, but do nonetheless need strong management control.

An O-licence is dependent upon a suitable operating centre for off-street vehicle parking. It requires demonstrable financial assets, dependent upon the number of vehicles.  The O-licence also specifies the number of vehicles allowed to be used, often including a margin to allow for seasonal peaks or breakdown. You must now own or have a hire agreement for at least one vehicle in order to hold an O-licence.

Operators must show they are of good repute; understand and can ensure compliance with all relevant laws; and have professional maintenance services available. Changes to operating centre or fleet size must have prior approval.

Who enforces it?

The Office of the Traffic Commissioner (TC), working closely with the Driver and Vehicle Services Agency (DVSA). There are eight regional TCs in the UK.

Compliance failures in terms of driver offences, poor roadworthiness or complaints can result in a Public Inquiry in front of a TC who has the power to revoke or alter the licence.

The operator is always ultimately responsible for any non-compliance even if caused by a third party, such as a maintenance contractor.


Using a vehicle without a valid O-licence can lead to the vehicle being impounded and prosecution. Non-compliance with other fleet regulations, by vans or trucks, can forfeit the licence, effectively ending the business.


Current Department for Transport consultations suggest removing the existing exemptions for: volumetric mixers, showman’s vehicles, recovery/breakdown vehicles, mobile cranes and electric vehicles.

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