The irresistible rise of the UK’s lifestyle couriers

The irresistible rise of the UK’s ‘lifestyle couriers’

By Harry KretchmerOn the Money, 5 live

  • 27 January 2013



Non-professional couriers, using their own cars and spare time, are becoming a force to be reckoned with as the internet reshapes the UK’s logistics industry.

Almost a billion parcels are estimated to have been delivered in the UK in 2012 by an expanding logistics workforce of around 1.8 million people, supporting a domestic parcel industry worth around £4.4bn.

Self-employed drivers now make up anything between 5-8% of UK logistics workers, with one of the most rapid expansions in the group known in the industry as ‘lifestyle couriers’.

These are individuals who, out of choice or necessity, spend varying amounts of time each week delivering parcels, usually around their neighbourhoods. It has been happening for decades, but the scale has changed.

Now, if you order home deliveries from a wide range of well-known online, catalogue and high street retailers it is likely some of your goods will have spent some time in the boot of a lifestyle courier’s car.


Coping with growth


Online shopping has led to a boom in so-called “lifestyle” couriers

James Cartledge, editor of industry magazine Post & Parcel, explains why the face of parcel deliveries is changing.

“Business-to-business is still dominant in the market but e-commerce will push the business-to-consumer side to match it in the next few years.

“Now, most of the big parcel industry players also use lifestyle couriers to help them cope.”

The rise of Hermes, the largest player in the UK lifestyle courier market, mirrors the development of the market.

Ten years ago, the Leeds-based subsidiary of the multinational delivery group had 2,500 lifestyle couriers on its books. Today it is 7,500 and expanding fast.

From Greenock to Greenwich, Hermes expects to have delivered a record 160 million parcels in the 12 months to February, boosted by a spike of 18 million during December.

Lifestyle what?

A dozen, randomly-selected online shoppers in Manchester seemed to know little about who was delivering their online and catalogue orders, with some assuming online giants like Amazon had their own drivers.


“I suppose whatever saves them money and gets it here quicker”, was one typical response.

Ged, from Stockport, is one of the new-style couriers. He signed up with Hermes after taking voluntary redundancy following 26 years in local government.

“I wanted a change to become my own boss and that’s how come I’m tippin’ up as a parceller”, he explains.

Now he delivers 60 to 70 parcels every Saturday from the boot of his small saloon car.

A typical load might include a dozen home shopping catalogues, several boxes of shoes and a vacuum cleaner.

Them and us

The rise of lifestyle couriers has not been embraced by some full-time self-employed delivery drivers, who typically charge more to cover higher overheads, including specialist vehicles and insurance.

There are still 20% of people who’ve never purchased anything onlineGary Winter, Hermes

Peter Turner, spokesman for the Self Employed Owner Drivers Association UK, describes lifestyle couriers as “a pain in the neck!”

“If they didn’t exist there would be more work for the self-employed guy – it’s got to have a knock-on effect somewhere along the line.”

The fledgling profession is also criticised by some of those who claim to practise it.

Low wages are a frequent source of complaint on the internet forums that have sprung up dedicated to lifestyle couriers.

However, as a representative of the industry, Hermes argues that remuneration is fair and competitive, with additional payments depending on the job as well as opportunities for drivers to negotiate their pay.

Ged, from Stockport, is phlegmatic: “Every little helps, as they say.”

Level playing field?

As the ‘Designated Universal Service Provider’ (DUSP), the Royal Mail is subject to strict conditions, including the requirement to deliver to every UK address six days week, at affordable and uniform prices.

cost advantages over professionals.

By contrast, postal regulator Ofcom admits lifestyle firms play by different rules.

“Packet and parcel operators are, and always have been, very lightly regulated, although they must have a process in place to handle complaints”, says a spokesman.

Ian Senior, an economist specialising in the postal industry, thinks the relative freedoms of the lifestyle market should be preserved, for now at least.

“Frankly, I think they have quite an uphill battle to prove their credibility but I don’t want to see the big heavy hand of regulation coming in yet again”, Mr Senior says.

With e-commerce projected to grow at 15% per year, James Cartledge thinks lifestyle couriers are here to stay: “You can buy five pairs of trousers, try them on at home and send four of them back. Lifestyle couriers are part of that explosion.”

The director of sales and marketing at Hermes, Gary Winter, is upbeat about future growth. “Whether it’s infinite, I don’t know. But there are still 20% of people who’ve never purchased anything on the internet.”



Courier Work

In response to the queries I’ve had re courier work, please see the following, a bit dated, but informative. It only deals with the sameday market.

Courier and Parcel Services UK Market Synopsis SYN010

May 2013 Introduction

This market synopsis examines the trends and market developments affecting the courier and parcel services sector in the UK. It provides information targeted specifically at new, existing or aspiring small business owners who are aiming to trade or develop their interests within this sector.

Courier service Courier service providers primarily cater for the same-day delivery market. This typically involves B2B collection and delivery, often in an urban environment. Courier services often use a combination of vans, motorcycles and bicycles. The UK’s biggest courier firm is CitySprint (, which reported turnover of £74.3 million in 2011, up 21.7% on the previous year. However, it was noted in the company’s annual report that the future was uncertain, as the market is very competitive and some contracts are subject to competitive tender ( The courier sector is characterised by a high number of self-employed individuals, working either independently or as subcontractors for larger firms. These individuals are generally owner-drivers of cars, vans or bikes. For example, CitySprint subcontracts collections and deliveries to more than 2,500 self-employed couriers across the UK. Couriers collect packages from CitySprint’s 37 distribution centres and distribute them in their local areas, with deliveries tracked via GPS devices.

fred-flintstone-carCourier Exchange ( is an example of an online marketplace where independent couriers can find subcontract work. Examples of independent courier services include eCourier (, cyclone ( and City of London Courier ( Hundreds of independent couriers advertise locally and online. Websites such as Find My Courier ( allow customers to book collections and deliveries with registered couriers. The National Courier Association (NCA, is a network of independent courier companies that collaborate to provide a national service. Many courier services provide niche and specialist services that differentiate them from their competitors. For example, bicycle couriers can access areas of a congested city that nonbicycle couriers cannot. Couriers that use bicycles and electric cars also promote green and carbon-neutral services. Medical couriers specialise in deliveries of pharmaceutical products, clinical supplies and medical notes. Refrigerated couriers can carry foodstuffs and other temperature-sensitive goods. Examples of niche and specialist couriers include Green Mile (, Medical Moves ( and Fresh Move (



On some occasions, when making a successful sameday delivery, a young courier chap becomes some one’s hero, for a short lived space of time that is. This is just one such instance.

I picked up a sameday delivery job the other day from a well known parcel delivery company.

Unfortunately for their customer, this item had managed to bounce back and forth between a number of different depots, and had not been delivered, in fact it was now some days past it’s stated delivery date.

The customer, let’s call her Tracy, had made several increasingly urgent calls in order to locate her parcel and find out when it was going to be delivered.

That’s where I came in. I was given the parcel and tasked with a sameday delivery.

I called Tracy to let her know that I had her item on board, and would unite her with her parcel in approximately 3 hours, and would call her when I was half an hour away from delivery. Tracy was delighted and said that I could call her any time, not many women say that to me.

I called Tracy when I was half an hour from delivering. She proceeded to give me a long and complex list of directions, which only succeeded in confusing the hell out of me, so I told her that the sat nav would get me to her, but if I encountered any problems, I would call her. Tracy had now moved on some distance from being delighted and could barely contain herself.

I arrived outside Tracy’s door with her parcel on my shoulder, and rang the door bell. She opened the upstairs window, took one look at me, and declared in a sincere and booming voice “I love you.” She then ran all the way down-stairs to open the door to me, at which point I told her that I loved her too. Stars were glittering in her eyes and her smile reached the top of the world and back again. She reached out with both arms, and… snatched the parcel from off my shoulder.

Her cup ranneth over. She hugged her parcel close to her breast, and cast her love struck eyes upon me.   Not being one to miss an opportunity, I suggested that now that the formalities were out of the way that we should get married. At that point our relationship started to sour a little, and her dog appeared at the front door and immediately disapproved of me.

Notwithstanding that, I was invited in for a cup of tea. By the time I had finished the much welcome cuppa, doggy had decided that I wasn’t too bad after all and should now be welcomed into the bosom of the family. Unfortunately, Tracy’s ardour had by now considerably cooled, and I was politely wished a pleasant and safe return journey, and escorted to the door.

Hence ends my love on the road. But in spite of it all, I walk away with a smile, as customer and parcel are united in eternal bliss, and Edgbaston Express completes yet another successful mission.

His Ruler of the Worldship

His Ruller of the Worldship

As mentioned in previous blogs, I had been in the security industry for twenty years plus.

So, every now and then I thought I’d say something about my time and experiences in that particular world, these instances have nothing whatsoever to do with the sameday courier industry, but you might find them amusing.

I had been working at this government run building, at which point in time they called themselves the Dept. of Work & Pensions. I wasn’t directly employed by the gov., although I was required to sign a very diluted version of the Official Secrets Act.

The building that I worked at, located in Birmingham, was not your run of the mill Job Centre, oh no! This was a place where the needy and desperate were refferred. If, for example, a person had been suspended from their usual source of benefit, for whatever reason, they were sent over to the office where I worked, or they might be what we called NFAs, people of No Fixed Abode, usually alcaholics and drug addicts, they would receive a daily pay-out. And provided they all got some dosh, it was a happy ever after situation, until the next time that is. And you can imagine what happened if people didn’t get some jolly old state money, anyway that I will save for another day.

I remained in this employment, with two TUPE situations, for the best part of eight years. Now, as you can imagine, this three story building needed a small army of cleaners. I got on well with about 90% of the cleaners, and had some interesting experiences with some of them. What I liked about the cleaners, was that they were down to earth. They had nothing to prove to anybody, and had no airs and graces, they were what they were. Just my sort of people, what you see is, largely, what you get.

Anyway, there I was one afternoon, sorting the post in our office, when one of the cleaners stuck a toenail inside the threshold. He hadn’t been there very long and I didn’t know his name. Truth be told, I had barely noticed him, he kept himself very much to himself, a nose down arese up sort of geezer,   who seemed somewhat timid. But on this particular instance he stood just inside the office door looking at me with great big Bambi caught in the head-light eyes.

I returned his gaze, wondering what he wanted. He made a millimeter by millimeter progress into the office, when finally he broke his silence.   “Can I tell you something?” Oh no. What’s he going to say? “Yeah, of course you can.” As I hadn’t shouted at him, beat up on him or cussed him, he became emboldended,   and took a whole step into the office, Bambi was in retreat.

“They’re going to make me supervisor!” A hesitant smile hit his face. “Oh, that’s good.”   He now took two big steps inside. His smile touched the top of the world engulfing his whole face. “Yeah. They will have to do as I tell ‘em. I’ll be firm but fare, so long as they do their work, and do as they are told, I’ll be firm but fare.” “Oh, that’s good.” “Yeah, I don’t mind telling you because you’re security. I’ll be fair but firm, so long as they do their work and do as they are told. I’ll be fair but firm. I’m going to make some changes. They must do their work. I’ll be fair but firm”.

Bambi had by now been entirely banished to some previous life. His whole frame seemed to swell to the point where my poor old office could barely contain him. To be honest, I didn’t think that the cleaners needed a supervisor, but, obviously, someone somewhere did. My new found best mate continued outpouring his plans, aims and ambitions. Oh God, he’s going to change the whole world. I could see it coming, Napolen, Wellington, Ceaser and Alexander the Great had no claim on this geezer. I didn’t know if the world, let alone the poor old office cleaners were ready for him. Finally he retreated, with echos of, I’ll be firm but fare, still reverbrating from the office walls.

Anyway, the day dawned, and the great they, made him supervisor. He unleashed his new regime upon the cleaners, and within twenty minuets had succeded in upsetting every single one of them. After twenty five minutes, there was a queue of cleaners fighting to get out of the door, screeming and shouting down there mobile phones. After thirty minutes, he was gone! That’s it, he was out the door, gone! Never, ever to be seen again.

He had united all the cleaners in a single and binding cause, either he goes or we go. The great they, had no alternative, faced with this popular rebellion by all the cleaners, poor old he, had to go.

I can’t help but feel a little bit guilty about this, as it wasn’t too difficult to predict the outcome, I feel that I should have advised him to reign in his enthusiasm, but I didn’t. I don’t know if he would have listened to me anyway.

I sometimes wonder about him, and whatever became of him, and how he managed to cope with this great defeat. I mean, where do you go from where he was – his ruler of the worldship one minuet to out the door the next?   How do you cope with such a complete disaster like that? Several pints of local brew wouldn’t go amiss, I suppose.


I had been working as a sameday courier since January 2014, about three weeks into my new carrier path, and I had been making just about enough to keep myself going.

The thing that really frustrated me was that I wasn’t getting any of those vitally important back-loads. It’s all very well getting that first out-bound collection to say London, Liverpool or Leeds, but if you end up coming back empty then it cuts the jolly old bottom line in two. And I had been crawling back home at about 50 or 60 mph, to cut back on the jolly old fuel expenditure.

Then one day in February, I secured a sameday collection from Redditch to Edinburgh. I had to pick up the parcel that evening and have it delivered the next morning for 0800 hrs.

I set off from Birmingham at 0200 hrs in the morning, giving myself 6 hours for a 5 hour journey, allowing an hours grace in the event of any mishaps, and wouldn’t you know it, they closed the M6 at J 6, brilliant. I didn’t get back on the M6 till about J 14, had to wend all the way through Wolverhampton and beyond, this cost me a good 40 mins delay. But, nevertheless, I made the sameday delivery at 0757 hrs, with a whole 3 mins to spare, good old me.

Then I set about looking for that all important back-load. And after about an hour’s search I got one! Yipee! I had to go a bit further North for the collection, but made the pick up in good time, and set off with my back-load to Slough. This was a massive journey, 400 miles and about 7 hours travelling.

As I came back through Edinburgh, I was contacted by a Co. on CX, who asked if I could do a collection for them from Edinburgh to Heathrow. I couldn’t believe my luck, the collection was just minuets away, as was the delivery from Slough. It wouldn’t compromise my first job, so I took that on board as well.

After a starvation of those all important back-loads, I had secured two in one day. But, there was a sever weather warning going back, with camera enforced low speed limits. This persisted all the way into England, and even got worse, as the bridge at Warrington was closed to all traffic, which meant all the motor-way stuff had to come off the M6 and go through Warrington during the rush hour.

That was great fun! But I managed to get to the first delivery still on time, and I made the second, which had to be delivered by close of play that day, at about 5 minuets to midnight. And then I faced a two hour journey back to Birmingham, finally touching down home at about 0300. I had been on the road for 25 hours with only about a half hours break on the way back.

Such is the lot of a sameday courier. But at least I had broken my run of no back-loads, and had a very profitable day.

Taking the jolly old plunge

Up until December 2013, I had been a busy little bee. I had more than twenty years experience of working in the security industry, and then my fairy godmother came along and bashed me over the ‘ead with her redundancy wand. “Here you are, old son have loads of dosh.” Ooooh, thanks, said I.

But what to do next? I had often considered working for myself, just buying a small van and becoming a sameday courier. I had met a number of couriers whilst I was working as a security gurad at various wharehouses. They would turn up and collect a mobile phone or something and shoot off to London. Looking at it from the other side of the fence it all looked and felt jolly exciting.

I had managed to accumulate a smallish amount of savings, but I didn’t think I had enough to finance myself, and doing a business plan and running all the way to the bank to see if I could borrow a few grand, was not very appealing, and that was my excuse to myself, which I clung to for a number of years. I couldn’t afford it. I was comfortable and cosy where I was and it was just too risky.

But after my redundancy windfall, I could afford it. So, I started to really think about it, and started to do some sums. Then I had to find a pair! It’s all very well to think about it, but after the sums bit, my recently acquired pot of gold was looking somewhat slim.

What if it all went wrong? What if I brought a van, paid mega bucks for the insurance, paid out for this that and the other and I couldn’t make a living at it? My big old pot of dosh would evaporate. I’d be pennyless, again. I’d never build up this amount of lolly again.

I did some more research. All my friends thought I was a little bit insane. None of them had a good word to say about my ideas, thanks guys. One said I’d be bust in three months. Oh dear, whilst my pot was still bulging, the pair were shrinking.

I set myself a dead-line. I’d gone on the Transport Exchange site, CX, and felt it was possible to make a go of things. I contacted local courier compainies, and some nationals as well. I maxed out the number of potential sources for work. It could work, couldn’t it? It would work, wouldn’t it? It must work, I hope. As I got nearer to that jolly old fence that I had viewed as a security gurad, so the risks got bigger and bigger, and it didn’t appear so very exciting anymore, just a big old gamble.

The dead-line date loomed. I brought a van, I paid for the insurance. I paid out for this that and the other. And my dear old pot of gold was two thirds lighter. I still hadn’t started working in earnest. I had set a dead-line for that too.

Then I woke up at about 4 in the morning and changed my mind! I tried to think of how I could get out of it, and how I could get some, or all of my money back. But no. I was made of sterner stuff, wasn’t I? I cast doubt assunder, and walked out into the new dawn as self-employed courier.

I Always was mummy’s brave little soldier.



Hello everyone.

This is my first ever blog, hope you like it.

What I’m setting out to do here is to give a picture of what it’s like to be a self-employed courier in the UK.

First of all, let’s clarify what sort of courier. I have heard of next day delivery drivers, who have an extra long wheel base Sprinter, or similar vehicle, described as couriers.

Typically, they might work for companies such as DPD, TNT, Yodel, or other such companies, and they would have their vehicles loaded up to the roof with 70 – 100 different drops. In my opinion these guys aren’t couriers, they are next day delivery drivers. I’m not knocking them, I’ve done it, and it’s bloody hard work.

I specialise in  sameday work. This is a whole different ball game to next day delivery. Typically I would only have the one collection and delivery, on an urgent sameday basis. I could be doing a local 5 mile journey or a run all the way up to Glasgow or Edingburgh, each of which is practically a 300 or 300 mile plus journey. And I could be carrying anything from a key, a letter, a moblie phone, or a 350 kg pallet.

I have a Renault Kangoo van, that I call William, William Waggon, to give him his full name. I am what some people would call a one man band, or just a man and a van. However, this is a little bit deceptive, as I sometimes sub out jobs that I get from my website.

Nevertheless, I remain a pretty small business. I am trying to expand, and towards that end I am attempting to raise the profile of my company.

I will have been in business for myself for two years in January 2016. And my only regret is that I didn’t do it twenty years earlier. Being self-employed, with all the pitfalls, beats the pants off working for someone else. It’s not for everyone, there are risks, and you don’t become a millionare over-night, and probably not ever, but I would now find it very hard indeed to work for someone else on standard PAYE, terms.

Anyway, what I shall try to do is to go through it step by step. Giving the ups and downs. And as I spent more than twenty years in the security industry before coming into this line of work, I will also impart some of the experiences that I had in that industry.

Here endeth my little intro. Next up is the story of how I took the plunge.