Firstly, I want to make clear that this article is not a criticism of hard-working couriers who are lawfully out there, abiding by the rules of the road and trying to earn a decent living. It’s a criticism of the companies who have opened the can of worms to allow the practices I’m about to explore, to happen…
Putting aside the whizzing pedal cyclist determined to get to their next job by cycling on pavements, failing to consider other road users, ignoring traffic lights and a personal bugbear of mine – failing to adequately consider their own safety by cycling without appropriate lighting and visibility… The rise of the gig economy has done something even more drastic…
Infested our roads with uninsured motorcyclists, moped riders and cars.
To deliver for gig economy companies like Deliveroo, Just Eat, Stuart and Uber, motorists must have adequate ‘hire + reward’ insurance in place. Just having Social Domestic and Pleasure (SDP), Commuting or any kind of regular Business insurance renders the driver’s policy void, thus leading to them driving around uninsured. I am aware of reports that a court has determined Business insurance to be adequate coverage, but have no confirmed source of this.
There are very limited options available when it comes to hire + reward insurance. For car drivers, there is ‘insurance revolution’, ‘acorn’ and perhaps a handful of other providers that offer adequate coverage. There are a few more available for moped riders.
Tech start-up ZEGO launched in 2016 with an aim to cover the gap in this market and provide both flexible pay-as-you-go insurance as well as 30-day or 365 day policies. Underwritten by the likes of RSA, this company is the only option available to a majority of couriers.
However, for me, my regular car insurance costs in the region of £750 when taking into account my age and 13 years of no claims discount applied.
A quotation with ‘insurance revolution’ brings this total to over £3,800. Acorn quoted me just over £2,900 and ZEGO quoted me pretty much the same for an annual policy.
This is a whooping 286% increase to my annual insurance premiums if I opt to go for annual cover.
Instead, as I worked part-time, I opted for a pay-as-you-go policy at £1.75 per hour, which digitally activates once I start courier work. However, after nine months, I have now come to realise that I may well have been driving around with an absolutely worthless and super expensive policy that I have paid well over £2,000 for that may have been invaliding my existing motor insurance policy all along.
ZEGO claim on their website that “Some Social, Domestic and Pleasure insurance providers make the commercial decision to not allow you to purchase your Hire and Reward policy elsewhere if you have SD&P with them. This is a commercial decision by the individual insurance company. Please check your SD&P Terms and Conditions if you would like further details.”
However, they also state on their website in 2019 that “in March 2018, the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB), the official authority for motor insurance in the UK, acknowledged top up or short term cover as a valid form of insurance” below an underlined title “Top up insurance is recognised by the motor insurance authority and is 100% legal”
It is only the latter that I saw when taking out a policy with ZEGO, with the former only coming to my attention when researching this subject.
I’m yet to contact both insurance companies that I’ve been with whilst simultaneously holding a ZEGO policy, but if it is the case that the ZEGO policy has been unfit for purpose, am I – and the countless other ZEGO pay-as-you-go users, entitled to a refund? Have we been driving uninsured? What is our legal position? These are all questions that need to be answered.
The “bicyclist” that turns up as a car, moped or motorbike rider
We then come to the genuinely dodgy gig economy couriers.
A few weeks ago, I put up a poll on Reddit asking whether I should or should not report a courier who claimed to be a bicycle on their Uber Eats profile but turned up on a scooter – as in, the moped variety.
This poll was purposely designed to harvest views as opposed to actually cement my position – that, I had already decided.
It was an interesting mix of feedback. Of 99 votes, 60 people told me to “Report” and 39 told me not to. This kind of ties in with a little something below about 60/40.
One user commented “It goes without question to report. If there’s votes for Nay then you’re potentially taking votes from those who take advantage” whilst in contrast, another said “Can’t believe you reported someone trying to make a living, how lame […] Me and my friends do it the legit way but we’d never report someone trying to make a living in a pandemic”. The funniest comment was “No one likes a snitch. You’re the type to go crying to the cops when anything bad happens to you smh” – “Yeah, absolutely. Who else will I go to?”
Subsequently, between four friends and three family members, we spent three weeks keeping a track of ‘who turns up’ for our Uber Eats orders (In hindsight, I wish I had done some Deliveroo ones too – but hey, live and learn – perhaps a news outlet with a budget can step in!).
Our findings are as follows: Out of 40 orders:
16 ‘bicycles’ turned up as either mopeds or cars
3 orders turned up as a genuine bicycle
21 orders turned up as a genuine moped or car
From this survey of 40 orders, that means 40% of these couriers may be uninsured, with only 60% of couriers arriving in a genuine transportation mode as reported on the app.
This survey doesn’t necessarily conclude the extent of the problem, rather, highlights from a cohort of 40 orders that the problem does indeed exist.
On one occasion, I reported to Uber Eats that a male arrived on a moped, the registration to which is different to the female Uber Eats courier’s account. The response I received was:
Okay, so… What happens when I report a cyclist turning up in a car?
No additional information was cascaded to me from Uber about these complaints
“No parking at any time”
Let’s now turn to the row of mopeds that infest our red-routes, making it unsafe for cyclists to use bicycle lanes. These are generally parked opposite a McDonald’s, Five Guys, KFC, Deliveroo cloud kitchen “editions”, or other restaurant hotspot.
Clapham Common, just outside McDonald’s and Five Guys is particularly problematic, as is the A24 opposite McDonald’s in Balham.
Despite there being a 24 hour restriction, except 7am – 7pm loading for 20 minutes, at dinner time (post 7pm) and beyond, there we have it – rows of mopeds.
Now, my views on this are quite mixed. On one hand, it’s illegal, but on the other – I’m not a fan of these 24 hour red route restrictions either.
Nevertheless, and even leaving aside the social nuisance of the problem, the point still stands that based on my above calculation that about 40% of gig economy couriers are uninsured, this means that there are far too many uninsured mopeds infesting our roads, creating a hazard for all to bear.
To conclude… based on my own little study of the above, combined with an ethnographic view of the situation… there are roughly, at the least, 40% of gig economy couriers riding uninsured.
Though, who can blame them? – The exorbitantly high insurance rates of between 200-400% above regular insurance costs, combined with, as I reported in my last article, pay of around £3-5 per hour as well as tight restrictions on suitability for hire + reward policies (age, claims history, etc.) …leads inevitably to uninsured cheats, with the genuinely insured couriers to become the ones that are truly out of pocket.
And of course, the ZEGO issue remains outstanding…
Ultimately though, why are these gig economy companies not providing adequate insurance cover to their couriers? Why should couriers, that are earning dangerously low amounts of money below minimum wage have to fork out and pay from the very little that they do earn, to the likes of yet another company, such as ZEGO, that takes from the worker?
Furthermore, this unfair playing field creates a problem for the genuine workers too… the cyclists who are disadvantaged by car and moped ‘bicycles’ that suck up all the orders.
When working for the likes of BT, British Gas, Virgin Media, the AA, RAC, etc… workers aren’t expected to pay for their motoring insurance… Why are couriers any different? – Well, it goes to the heart of the exploitative model that is… The gig economy.
I contacted both Deliveroo and Uber Eats.
An Uber Eats spokeswoman said “Uber Eats takes this matter very seriously. We use technology and robust audits to verify the type of vehicle being used and to confirm that all couriers hold the legally required insurance. Any courier who does not meet the relevant legal requirements will not have access to the app.”
Uber also reiterated:
- It is required by law for motor vehicle owners to hold insurance for their motorbikes / scooters / cars.
- It is compulsory for couriers who make deliveries via the Uber Eats app using motor vehicles to have the correct insurance for delivery.
- We constantly monitor insurance documents provided by couriers and any courier whose insurance has expired or is invalid will lose access to the app.
- Uber Eats has processes in place to detect and act when it appears that a courier is using a different vehicle to the one that they have registered with us, and we regularly review, evaluate and improve this technology.
- For bicycle couriers (who do not have a legal insurance obligation) we provide €1M third party liability insurance cover from AXA, at no cost.
- Holding a provisional licence and having a completed CBT enables a user to legally use a moped or motorcycle on the road. We require couriers to upload their CBT certificate to the Uber Eat app, and a courier whose CBT certificate expires will lose access to the app until they upload an up-to-date certificate or a full driving licence.
- We provide all couriers with educational safety information when they onboard with Uber Eats.
- All couriers are required to have passed a right to work check and criminal background check in the UK irrespective of their choice of vehicle.
On the right of substitution, please find the information here.
Deliveroo did not reply.