Drive for money: the four-wheel courier
Do you love sitting behind the wheel? Would you like to drive for money?
Being a courier could be just the thing for you! Delivering items to anywhere from John o’ Groats to Land’s End, courier jobs allow you to choose which jobs you would like to take.
It’s a job that can fit in with any lifestyle – courier work can be completed on a freelance or full-time basis. You don’t need to invest any money or quit your current job to become a courier, and the wages can be as much as £300 per day.
Is this too good to be true?
Read on to find out whether being a courier is suited to you, and what kind of pay you could be picking up on the job.
- What’s involved as a courier?
- How to get started as a courier
- How much can I earn?
- The downside of courier work
- Do I have to rely on established courier companies?
- Courier careers
There are over 60 courier companies in London alone, and more than 4,438 across the whole of the UK. Most companies have offices at key areas across the country, from Manchester and Birmingham to Plymouth and Aberdeen.
Courier jobs involve carrying parcels in your vehicle to their destination; on time and while keeping products in good condition. Couriers are usually self-employed, but they contract out to various courier companies. All deliveries are recorded by you, and you send an invoice to the company at the end of the week.
Beginning as a freelancer means you can start in your spare time and work around your current job while you build your business network. If you don’t work, you don’t earn. But the further you go and the more you can carry, the more you’ll get paid.
Within London, the pay is usually worked out on a postcode-to-postcode basis. Outside of London a per-mile-per-load levy is applied, so you’re paid a certain amount for each mile you transport each item.
The work is not regular, so if you want to take on more, it’s a good idea to contract yourself to a few different companies. You don’t have to take every job that comes your way. You can pick and choose the ones that suit you in terms of location and time needed to complete the journey.
To get the most out of the job and complete more journeys in good time, it’s worth having good navigation skills and general knowledge of both the area you live in and the whole country. Strong knowledge of road rules and motorway layout is key.
It’s also useful to have general repair knowledge and equipment in case of a breakdown on the road.
Step 1: Tools of the trade
First of all, you need a vehicle. Obviously the bigger the vehicle, the more you can carry. But there’s no point having a lorry if you only need to drive a box of documents from London to Birmingham. Take on jobs which match the capabilities of your vehicle.
Even if you had a regular hatchback there would be plenty of work available, but for bigger loads you’ll need more space. If you are thinking of buying yourself a vehicle, CourierExpert.co.uk recommend a ‘Midi Van’ such as a Peugeot Expert or Citroen Dispatch.
The most important thing with courier jobs is that your vehicle is reliable. You need enough road knowledge to change a tyre and ensure your vehicle can drive the length and breadth of the country without issues. Visit Desperate Seller, which has hundreds of cars advertised across a wide price range.
Don’t forget about eBay Motors, of course – there are almost 200,000 vehicles advertised at any one time, so you’re certain to find something suitable.
But remember, if you buy your own van then you have to factor into your outgoings the cost of maintenance, servicing, road tax and everything else. Typically, a courier van will have to be serviced around every six to eight weeks because of the high mileage it is doing.
In larger cities it may be worthwhile to courier using a bicycle or motorbike, which would mean lighter loads, less travel, and a certain level of fitness required! If this sounds more enjoyable to you, we’ve got a whole article on being a two-wheel courier! In fact, there is a general shortage of motorcycle couriers, particularly in south-east England.
You’ll also need a mobile phone. Make sure you have one of the best mobile phone deals that offers a large amount of free calls per month. This will cover all your business call costs.
To help you work out tax claims, it can be easier to have a separate phone for business use. Try Carphone Warehouse for some great offers.
A computer isn’t always necessary. It can, however, help with areas of your business such as account keeping, having a business website and generally keeping up to date with your daily records. Don’t forget, you’ll need to be able to send invoices to courier companies in order to get paid!
Step 2: Insurance
As with most self-employed jobs, insurance is important. It needs to cover yourself, your vehicle and the goods you are carrying for others.
Vehicle insurance is a legal requirement on the road, but when looking for a quote you need to make sure that the insurance is tailored for couriers. This way, your policy will cover both your vehicle and the goods that you’re carrying for others.
Don’t confuse courier insurance with haulage insurance. It is generally taken that haulers drive a long way to deliver a single load while couriers do multiple drop offs but different insurance companies have different definitions. Make sure, therefore, that you and your insurance company are on the same page when it comes to your job title. Even if you take out the wrong cover by accident, your policy could be invalidated.
Some companies may also place restrictions on where you can drive and may be reluctant to provide cover for drivers under 25 years of age so make sure you read the fine print.
Goods in transit (GIT) insurance is also a must-have for driving jobs. It protects against damage to your customers’ goods. Cover generally goes up to £10,000 as standard, but can be arranged at a higher level if you find yourself carrying very valuable goods.
GIT insurance can come with exclusions however, preventing you from transporting:
- Hazardous goods
- Human remains (sounds weird, but even ashes)
- Goods being transported during a house-move such as a sofa
- ‘Theft attractive goods’ may only be half covered by your insurance such as computers, iPads and other electronic valuables.
However, t’s not wise to go for a lower premium when you’re getting this type of insurance. Check that your insurance company can cover you, otherwise there are specialist companies around you can use and you can even get one-off speciality insurance for unexpected valuables.
public liability insurance
Public liability insurance is optional, but it will cover you for those accidents that can always occur. Think, dropping a box on a client’s foot or accidentally damaging a postbox lock.
Step 3: Fuel
You can’t get anywhere without fuel, and it’s important to think about this, especially since fuel costs can be pricey and you could be travelling up to 100,000 mile per year.
You can (and should) incorporate the price of fuel into your prices to ensure you’re not losing out. However, to keep your prices as low as possible, it’s a good idea to use a vehicle that runs on diesel if you can.
Diesel may be a few pence dearer per litre, but you can travel further on a litre of diesel than you can a litre of petrol. If you’re planning to become a courier long term, it may even be worth your while having your vehicle professionally converted to diesel as the costs are much lower.
You can also get up to 35% better fuel efficiency by just driving a bit slower and not accelerating so quickly. Get cheaper fuel by checking petrol prices before you go out and fill up.
Step 4: Notify Inland Revenue
You are effectively self-employed with your own business, so have a look at our article on freelance finances for help with your tax. You can either do your own accounts, or hire an accountant. It’s a good idea to speak to an accountant first, even just to question them on what exactly you can claim back on your tax return. These will be things like your mobile bill for business purposes, fuel and other costs.
Step 5: Pricing
Pricing is usually charged per mile one way – with a discounted rate if clients want the package returned. It’s a good idea to set one price for your individual customers and another, more competitive one for other courier companies.
Prices will vary depending on where you live and what vehicle you’re using – i.e. how much fuel you’re getting per mile. Be prepared to negotiate prices with other courier companies, or maybe even offer the first delivery at a discounted rate to demonstrate your courier abilities.
After being invoiced, customers will typically have up to 30 days to pay. This means that you must have enough additional income or in the saving pot to see you over for that month.
Step 6: Getting your first courier job
You may be running your own business, but the best way to kick-start your revenue flow is to go to the companies that will sub-contract work out. They are not only your competition but your business partners – they rely on freelance couriers every day.
When other courier companies can’t handle all their jobs in one day they outsource the work. If they know you, and know you’re available, you’re more likely to get the call to come to the rescue for them.
This is where networking comes into use. There are over 1,000 courier companies out there that can provide work for you. See the links at the end of this article to start finding courier jobs.
Step 7: Advertising
Put an ad in the local paper. Get yourself in Yell.com, Thomson Local and online business directories. Post flyers with your prices and contact details to all local businesses. Talk to nearby industrial areas about their delivery needs, even just to help yourself with ideas of pricing.
Have a look at Vistaprint, who will print you business cards for free when you pay for the delivery costs – usually around £5 for 1,000 cards. You choose the design and fill in your information. You can also get letterheads and any other stationery with your business symbol on it for very low costs.
A website can be a great idea, but don’t spend a lot of money on it. Set up a simple site, or even just a page with your details, prices and a photo or two.
Step 8: Daily records
Keeping daily records is essential for a courier. You’ll need to have a schedule of pick-up points and delivery addresses, and a list of signatures to prove that you’ve dropped the packages off to your customers.
You may also want to keep a list of dropping-off points in the most convenient order and a plan of your route. You will need to provide these come invoice time.
step 9: Qualifications
Courier jobs require no formal qualifications, apart from a driving licence of course, and most companies like you to be over the age of 25 for insurance purposes. You can take further development courses such as the:
- NVQ Level 2 Carry and Deliver Goods certificate, and the
- NVQ in Customer Service.
We’ve spoken to several courier companies and the average daily income falls at around £140. If you advertise and network efficiently, you could even earn up to £300 per day – £70k per year.
This is based on a figure of 60p per mile to your destination and 40p per mile for the return journey. Every company will have their own tariffs. Some couriers we asked have been paid £2.47 a mile, but you need to scope your market.
Here is a list of the top UK courier companies to research before jumping into work:
It all depends on how much you put into starting up and running your business. And business may be slower when you begin, especially if you start part time while continuing with your previous job.
The average working day is between six and eight hours, but it depends on the work available and how much time you want to put in.
Being self-employed gives you the flexibility to choose when you want to work. However, don’t turn down jobs without good reason. Rejecting work from one company on a continuous basis may mean they may stop calling you altogether. You need to tread a fine line to keep everybody happy.
Although courier companies are reluctant to admit the downsides of working as a courier, Hermes and DPD have come under fire for worker conditions.
The Guardian reports that the status of self-employed is offered to couriers as a way of maximising their flexibility, however this is done without provision of sick or holiday pay and with no company contributions to national insurance or pensions. This means that individuals are forced to take unpaid leave if they encounter unexpected problems that prevent them from driving.
The term self-employment is also used by courier companies such as Hermes to avoid paying the £7.20 an hour living wage. One self-employed courier provided evidence to The Guardian showing that she was only earning approximately £5.90 an hour over two weeks of recent work while another indicated that she earned no more than £6.70 per hour.
The Guardian highlighted the penalties some courier companies enforce to try and make a profit out of people’s vulnerable circumstances. In March 2017, it discovered that “Parcelforce couriers who deliver packages for Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and Hamleys can be charged up to £250 a day if they are off sick and cannot find someone to cover their shift.” This is on top of the fact that multiple days of training are also unpaid and that couriers must cover the costs of fuel and car maintenance from their own pocket.
Although these reports are not very encouraging, the exposure of such workplace practices has meant that the courier industry is coming under greater scrutiny. The Work and Pensions Select Committee and HM Revenues and Customs, for example, have launched investigations into the allegations made against Hermes and this has been taken by other courier companies as a warning against further malpractice.
Rest assured that all courier companies are rethinking their strategies in order to make self-employed courier work an increasingly attractive proposition.
Of course, the most reliable way to get yourself into courier work would be through the networks provided by companies like DHL or Hermes. However, if you have the time and money to spare, setting up your own courier company could have its own benefits.
This way, you won’t be restricted by rules imposed by the large courier companies, and you won’t have to wait for payment on your invoices. To make it work though, you will need to invest substantially in marketing efforts in order to get your first customers and build a name for yourself as a courier business.
Remember that to make money by setting up your own courier business, it would be beneficial to have some savings you can rely on to see you through the quieter periods. You can expect the run up to Christmas to be particularly busy as people want gifts delivered, but summer months could see less action as people are on holidays.
Couriering is still a viable job prospect for people who want to earn a little more on the side, or go all-in and change career altogether.
Despite the charges levelled at some of the top nationwide firms, it’s important to remember these are only one or two companies out of more than 4,000 that do business across the UK.
Before you make your decision, however, make sure that you research all of your options thoroughly and know your rights either as a self-employed courier or an employee.
Speak to people who already work for your local courier companies and paint yourself a broad picture of what you should expect.
Keep an eye on the progress of the official inquests and look forward to the greater openness and regulation that will hopefully be a result of them.