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Case Study : Public Inquiry on Change of Entity

We recently represented two companies who were both called to the same public inquiry. Although separate entities, the companies were closely connected because of having the same set of directors. One of the companies (the Operator) had years previously been issued with a restricted goods vehicle operator’s licence. The other company had recently applied for the same kind of licence (the Applicant).

Over the previous year, the directors had decided to progressively move most of the Operator’s business interests to its sister company the Applicant. Without understanding the potential consequences, and before being granted its operator’s licence, the Applicant began using the Operator’s heavy goods vehicle. The Operator company had not informed the Traffic Commissioner (TC) of its change in business arrangements and of the apparent change of entity (though the companies were actually wholly owned subsidiaries of another company – see below).

The Public Inquiry was convened because of changes at this business group and a fundamental misunderstanding of the operator’s licence regime, and that there had been what appeared to be a change of entity involving the companies.

The TC needed to be satisfied as to whether the companies were not unfit to hold an operator’s licence due to relevant activities and convictions, and about the events relating to a change in the circumstances of the licence holder. The Operator risked revocation of its licence. The Applicant was at risk of not having its licence granted.

In advance of the inquiry, and to start building their case, we obtained as much information as we could about the businesses and provided each company comprehensive legal advice. We examined the companies’ compliance systems and made recommendations about immediate and longer-term changes that needed to be implemented. On our recommendations, the companies invested time and resources into their maintenance and other systems

As a result of our preliminary work and advice, the companies were fully prepared for the public inquiry hearing. In particular, to answer questions and provide evidence about the apparent change of entity.

At the hearing we demonstrated that the companies were running professional and competent businesses. With specific reference to the issue of the apparent change of entity, the TC accepted that Section 3(4) of the Goods vehicle (licencing of operators) Act 1995 was relevant and that this was not a typical “change of entity” case – because of the companies being subsidiaries. We were able to persuade the TC that the issues that lead to the inquiry arose out of ignorance rather than an attempt to mislead or gain financial advantage

The TC granted the new licence to the Applicant with the Operator company voluntarily surrendering its licence. The directors were delighted with the outcome of the public inquiry hearing and that they managed to avoid the damaging consequences they feared.
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