Being a driving instructor can be brilliant but here are some things you should consider.
Anyone can be a driving instructor trainer
Anybody can legally train someone to be a driving instructor.
Surely they’d have to be an instructor themselves? No.
Surely they’d need to at least pass a course? No.
Surely they must at least have a driving licence? No!
Anyone can just have a go; even someone who’s never done the job, never passed any of the exams and can’t drive!
The only legal protection you have is that nobody other than a driving instructor can take money for driving tuition. To get around this they either contract part 2 work out to instructors or do that part for “free” and add the cost into part 1 or part 3. The DVSA are trying to close this loophole by making ORDIT compulsory but that’s been going on for years.
You can make big money by selling training. Many people will happily pay £2000 up front so if you can get 10 people you’ve just made £20,000 overnight. Then comes the awful training, the failed exams and it all starts over again…
Not all schools and trainers are like this but this is what often happens.
Be sure to read my page on driving instructor training scams.
There can be a long wait for the tests
It’s normal for you to have to wait at least three months to get a part 2 or part 3 test. It does depend where you are in the country but the examiners that do those test are specially trained and there aren’t many of them to go around.
I had to wait 8 months for my part 3 test. That was a long time ago in 2002 and things have gotten better but there is often still a long waiting time.
This is just one reason it is crucial you are ready for a test before taking it. You can get cancellations but they are very rare for instructor tests because nobody wants to cancel and have to wait again!
Be wary of anyone that says they can get you tests within days or even weeks. Maybe they can but always check the waiting times yourself by contacting the DVSA.
You can get hit with big tax bills
When you’re self employed you can get hit with huge tax bills because you have to pay some of next years tax on top of this years. You’re not paying twice as much in total but it seems like you are because you’re paying in advance.
If your tax bill is £2000 then you’d pay £3000 because you have to pay 50% on top of what you owe as an advance payment on next years bill. You then pay another 50% (£1000) 6 months later.
This is known as payment on account. It was designed to help people budget better for their income tax but the tragic irony is that it actually puts many small firms out of business just as they’re getting going!
I’m not going to go into detail here because this is something you really need to talk to an accountant about. All I’ll say is you need to budget to pay lots of tax, especially in your second year which is when you usually get hit with a massive tax bill of several thousand pounds.
If you start working as an instructor in October then when April comes around you’ll only have 6 months of income to pay tax on. The following year you’ll have a whole year to pay tax on so your second year is often when you get your first full tax bill.
Many new driving instructors simply forget they are not paying tax and don’t set aside money each month to cover their tax bill. Your tax isn’t taken out of your wages as it would be when you’re employed, YOU have to take it out of your income and put it aside yourself.
Don’t forget national insurance as well. That’ll be another 12% of your income on top of the 20% you paid in tax (correct in 2018).
If you want to read more about all of this then click here to read about payment on account on the official Inland Revenue site.
Self employed stigma
Whenever you tell someone you’re self employed in a social situation, they’re usually quite interested. They’ll ask you what business you have, how long you’ve been doing it, how you got into it. When you tell a bank they just don’t want to know! As soon as you say you’re self employed the barriers go up, alarm bells ring and you get treated like a leper.
This is because being self employed is seen as a HUGE risk by lenders. Your income isn’t guaranteed, you have no big company behind you. Remember that even if you work for a big driving school you are still self employed. There is no such thing as an employed driving instructor. No backup, no support, no sickpay. You’re a one man (or woman) band on your own.
This is a concept that many people struggle to understand. You cannot work FOR a driving school. You don’t work WITH the school. You are alone, they are merely an agency that attempts to supply you with work. It’s not guaranteed and you are not employed.
You’ll come across this prejudice everywhere you go. Call up a company and say you want a loan and they’ll be only too happy to help until you say that you’re self employed. At that point you may as well just put the phone down because you’ve got no chance. There are companies willing to help but you’ll pay a few % more APR for it.
If you’ve been self employed for years and years and one day end up with no work then you’ll get no benefits. That’s right – self employed people can’t claim benefits! It’s mad but it’s because you could just be saying that you have no work when you really do. I’ve never been in that position but i’ve heard of instructors with 10+ years service and 10+ years of tax returns and accounts that get refused any benefits at all.
It’s daft really because more and more people are becoming self employed these days. Who wants a boss? Who wants to work for someone else? Not me, but when you’re self employed the whole world hates you.
You can’t get a mortgage, credit or rent property for the first 3 years
As mentioned above, it’s tougher to get credit when you’re self employed. All banks and mortgage lenders will ask to see a minimum of 2 years of accounts signed off by a chartered accountant. Many ask for 3 years. During the first 2 or 3 years that you’re building up these accounts, nobody will touch you for anything.
There was a time when I had no accounts and rented a flat. The only way I could do it was to pay 6 months rent up front with a large deposit.
Remember that your accounts are done a year behind when you’re self employed so for 2 years of accounts you’ll need to have been doing the job for 3 years. It’s really tough for those first few years.
You probably won’t make it
The vast majority of people who start to become instructors simply don’t make it. I once saw an article in a magazine at a test centre where they followed people over the course of two years, right from the first time they applied for an ADI1 starter pack through to their first standards check.
How many of them made it to and passed their first standards check? Just five percent.
That’s five people out of every hundred that lasted for the first two years. Contrary to popular perception it is not easy to be a driving instructor. Many won’t make it. Many will fail. Many will give up. Sorry to sound negative but that’s just the raw truth.
So why do so few make it? Many fail the exams and don’t even get to be an instructor. Of those that do make it, many had been sold a dream of earning £30,000 and they realise after a few months of doing the job that it’s not going to happen and they just drop it. Some get killed on the job. Some can’t stand the stress and road rage. Some won’t get enough (or any) work. The most common reason though is simply bad training which doesn’t prepare you for the exams or the job.
I sometimes think back to the people that were on the training course with me. Each of us were so keen and had dreams of getting our own school. There were about 20 of us in the room and one of us quit just weeks into the training because the money was so bad. One bottled it and pushed a note under the door saying “Sorry, I just can’t do it”. He’d been talking to me on our lunch break about how nervous he was about the responsibility of being with learners, shame because he was a good guy. Another went on to become an examiner and the rest…who knows?
That was now fifteen years ago and I bet I’m the only one still teaching and certainly the only one who made it this far.
It’s not all bad!
The aim of this page is not to put you off becoming a driving instructor but to show you what it’s really like. There are many good companies that do work hard to put good instructors on the road and they shouldn’t be given the same treatment as the cowboys.
My advice to learners is to choose an instructor not just a school. My advice to instructors is to choose a trainer not just a school. Good instructors/trainers can work at schools but the very best ones usually have their own business.
To see some video clips showing what happens during the job and to read the good and bad points visit my page about the good and bad of being a driving instructor.