Vehicles can be impounded where the DVSA have reasonable cause to suspect that a vehicle is being used illegally. You have a right to apply to a traffic commissioner for its return subject to proof that you are the lawful owner of the vehicle.
The impounding regime was brought in by the Goods Vehicles (Enforcement Powers) Regulations 2001, which were subsequently amended by further regulations in 2009.
The only person entitled to apply, (under Regulation 10 of the 2001 Regulations) for the return of an HGV (or under Regulation 11 of the 2009 Regulations for the return of a PSV), is the owner at the time of the impounding.
Since it is only the owner who is entitled to apply for the return of an impounded vehicle Traffic Commissioners are entitled to determine the issue of ownership first. As a result, you would be well-advised to obtain and retain documentary evidence to demonstrate how, when and from whom you acquired ownership of the vehicle.
The most usual argument is that an Operator was not aware that his vehicle was being used without a licence. The question of what amounts to “knowledge” has been considered extensively by the Upper Tribunal.
As a general rule the DVSA witnesses should give evidence first at a hearing, where they must establish the case for impounding the vehicle. You will then give evidence, with the burden of proof being on you to establish one of the above ground/s for the return of the vehicle. It will be for you to establish that you had no knowledge of the contravention at the time when the vehicle had been used.
Traffic commissioners are advised to find such facts as they can on the evidence and then decide whether you have discharged the burden of establishing, on balance, that you did not have actual, imputed or constructive knowledge. The vehicle, if not returned, will then be sold with the proceeds being returned to the Operator but only after the storage and any other costs have been deducted.
Those dissatisfied with a Traffic Commissioner’s decisions have the right to appeal to the Upper Tribunal and, if necessary, go even further. Subject to proof of ownership, you may be able to resolve the issue by way of a consent order (if there has been some wrongdoing), where you agree to pay the costs of the case, subject to the return of your vehicle.