Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

I’m a carer for my elderly parents. On Thursday, I got up and told my 90-year old dad that I wasn’t doing anymore lessons so I didn’t have to come into contact with people, and the first thing he says is: ‘can you take me to Wickes, then?’

I said ‘what? No, I’m not’, and he almost fell out with me. He sulked for a while, and wouldn’t tell me what he wanted.

I said ‘dad, whatever it is I can order it online, then we won’t have to go out’. He still wouldn’t tell me.

Fast forward two days, and I again started trying to explain to him what ‘social distancing’ meant, and what it was for. I explained that if 100 people meet in a room, and one of them is infected, all 100 could walk out infected, and that’s how the virus could spread. I think I have finally got it through to him that he’s going to have to stop going to the Birds bakery for the very specific (and very small) loaf he insists on eating every day, and that I can buy a packed loaf in the weekly shop that he will have to get used to while we’re in this mess.

I then asked again what it was he wanted from Wickes: ‘a roll of roofing felt’!

A few weeks ago, during the storms, the roof of our shed started flapping because the felt had torn. I went ballistic, and said ‘dad, you’re not climbing on that roof. If you do, I’ll get my air pistol and f***ing shoot you down!’ I stress once more, he is 90 years old, has macular degeneration and cannot see, and COPD, so even taking a shower is a major struggle.

He almost fell out with me again, but I think I have persuaded him – and now I’m not working I can keep my eyes on him, because he’s a lying old git and probably still has every intention of trying it if he gets the chance.

On the plus side, a local roofer is going to get some much needed work, as getting it done professionally has just become my top priority in order to avert impending disaster.

As an aside, about five years ago I came home from lessons and he was on his bed upstairs covered in blood and cuts (he’s on blood-thinning medication). He’d been trimming the hedge at the bottom of the garden and fallen off the ridiculously unstable plank between two small step ladders he’d rigged up, and into the bushes. When I brought it up in the conversation today, he said ‘I didn’t fall off – I just missed my footing when the short plank…’

I interjected at this point ‘’…which you’re as thick as two of’.

Talk about stress.

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Bad Touch - rock bandWell, that’s one down. I was due to see Bad Touch next week at the Bodega. I’d heard the band were going to reschedule, and now it’s official – the gig has been rearranged for September.

Fingers crossed things are better by then. This year was gearing up to be a big one, with lots of tickets already purchased. Some of the bigger events, like Joe Bonamassa (almost certainly off) and Hollywood Vampires (later in the year), are more likely to be cancelled than rearranged. George Thorogood, who’s been on my bucket list for years, is currently booked for July, which is borderline right now.

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The Fusco familyI just saw this article on the BBC website. Coronavirus has killed four members of the same family in New Jersey.

Grace Fusco was 73. She, and six of her adult children, fell ill after a larger family gathering of up to 20 people. One of those children, Rita, was only 55 and had no underlying health conditions. The story doesn’t mention the ages of Carmine and Vincent, who also died.

It’s a tragic story – and one those over here who are vowing to keep working no matter what should bear in mind.

Having said that, I appreciate that many instructors are in terrible positions. I’m fortunate. inasmuch as I have now have an income from a private pension from my previous employer (hack, spit) of around £250 a week, and a lump sum in the bank from that which I wanted to save, but which could keep me going for several years if I needed it (hopefully, I won’t). And I have no mortgage or debts.

Many instructors – especially the younger ones – have nothing. They have mortgages, car loans, and other debts, as well as kids to feed. Driving instruction is not a high-paying job in the first place – even at best it is ‘adequate’, but you have to have been doing it for years and built up a financial buffer for that to matter.

My primary (selfish) concern is not passing COVID-19 to my parents. My secondary concern is  not passing it to my pupils who have Downs children, who are pregnant, or who have vulnerable relatives. Money comes in third.

I can understand the dilemma many find themselves in. I just count myself fortunate right now.

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Virus imageHouston, we have a problem!

I only wrote this a couple of days ago, but I’m having to update it already. The problem I was referring to was that not many driving instructors understand statistics or come from scientific backgrounds. They are concerned about Coronavirus on the one hand, but trying hard to persuade themselves they’re not on the other because there are obvious financial implications if they cannot work.

I noticed that there is a Coronavirus infographic doing the rounds. It’s from China, and it reports that 80.9% of cases are mild, 13.8% are severe, and 4.7% are critical. It also points out that ‘the majority of people’ recover. The latter two percentages require hospitalisation and intensive care, respectively. The originator of this infographic on Facebook – not the original Chinese source, I believe – who goes under the Facebook name of Information Is Beautiful, concludes “the majority of… infections are mild”.

Let’s put this into a more real-world perspective. I’ll start with the bottom line: if the entire population of a care home were infected, the ‘mild’ and ‘severe’/‘critical’ number would flip, and the vast majority of those infected would be at great risk. The same would perhaps be true if, say, a special school with a high population of Down Syndrome pupils were infected, since those with Down’s frequently have breathing issues in the first place. In a hospital, where people may already be ill, it would likely wreak havoc.

Information may well be ‘Beautiful’, but Understanding Information In Context is a hundred times better. And since the original version of this article less than a week ago, the situation has changed dramatically – as anyone with any sense at all would have known would happen.

I have elderly parents, both of whom have COPD. If they were to catch Coronavirus, they would probably die. I have a pupil who has a baby son with Down’s. If he caught it, it would be a serious issue for him and his son. I have another pupil whose partner is pregnant (I quite possibly have several in that position without being aware). If they caught it, there would be an increased risk for them as a family.

People are still trying to liken COVID-19 to seasonal flu as a comparison. Coronavirus/COVID-19 is not flu, you idiots. Trust me, it isn’t. Flu can be prevented if you have an annual vaccination (and they picked the correct strains for it), whereas Coronavirus cannot. Coronavirus appears to be more easily transmitted than flu. But most significantly, the annual mortality rate from flu is about 0.1% of the population, whereas with Coronavirus it is anywhere between over 1% and 6.5% (the latter is the figure in Italy). In the UK, which arguably has the most precise count of infections than anywhere else, we currently have a death rate of about 4.5% based on the number of known infections (it was 1.8% when I first wrote this, and the number of deaths has gone from 10 to 177 in that time). It is far more deadly than flu – and there is no current protection.

As much as 70% of the population could be infected by Easter or during Spring – that would be around 40 million people. The death rate, assuming it stays relatively uniform, would mean that as many as 700,000 could die in the UK alone. And if the infection peaks again next year, this would put the current pandemic right up there with the Bubonic Plague in Mediaeval times when considered across Eurasia as a whole.

This. Is. Not. Flu.

Flu makes you feel lousy, but it only leads to serious complications in some people with underlying health issues, usually (though not exclusively) connected to pneumonia. Coronavirus can send the immune system into overdrive, and the body starts attacking its own cells, leading to multiple organ failure. People with diabetes and heart conditions are vulnerable, as well as those with lung problems (since pneumonia is also an issue). Basically, anyone with a weak immune system in the first place.

I had begun discussing with pupils the possibility of cancellations, and the precautions they should take. I am now stopping lessons completely after one Pass Plus course, which starts tomorrow and finishes Tuesday.

I had a near miss on Thursday. I texted a pupil to remind him of his lesson late Wednesday, and his mum texted back that they had ‘forgotten’ to tell me but they were self-isolating because she had a fever. Shit. I gave him a lesson the week before. Fortunately, having checked again, she just has normal flu and I’m safe. But imagine if it had been Coronavirus.

This pandemic is what you could call ‘serious shit’, and attitudes like ‘there’s nothing to worry about’ and ‘it’s just flu’ are a sure fire way of helping it be so – especially if money is the motivator for feeling that way. This isn’t just about you – it’s about a lot of other people’s lives out there. Literally, their lives.

Any vaccine is at least 12-18 months away from being available, since likely candidates are only now going into trials. The current infection is expected to peak within the next month (though no one can be certain), but it is also expected to peak even higher next winter (also, no one can be sure).

But as I have already said, those with underlying health issues are likely to die from it whenever they get it.

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Bankruptcy stampI originally published this article in 2010 during the last recession, when people had been finding the blog on search terms along the lines of “can I go bankrupt as an ADI”, and “can I become an ADI if I’m bankrupt”.

The present Coronavirus crisis is probably the reason for there being a sudden spike in hits to it right now.

Bankruptcy is a legal process involving a person or business which is unable to repay outstanding debts. So, in short, if you can’t pay your bills then yes, you can easily become bankrupt as an ADI. If you are relying on self-employment to earn money the responsibility for success (and failure) lies entirely with you.

Technically, bankruptcy is intended to help both the debtor and the creditors. It takes away the debtor’s debts, and attempts to recoup at least some of the creditors’ outstanding money. However, by having been declared bankrupt, the debtor may find that life is harder in future. They will find it extremely hard to get any sort of credit, for example, and even opening a bank account might prove troublesome.

Unfortunately, it is usually the debtor who comes off worse. In the case of driving instructors, their business probably has very few assets with which to offset their debts (no buildings, factories, machinery, etc.) apart from their car. However, if they own a house, that is worth much more and might be at risk if things go that far.

There is no barrier to being self-employed (which 99.9% of ADIs are) whilst bankrupt, but you can’t be a director of a limited company. As a sole trader you won’t have any trouble though – but make sure you fulfil your duties to HMRC (the taxman) in accordance with your bankruptcy terms. Read up on this carefully.

For prospective ADIs, I would doubt that previous or current bankruptcy would affect your chances of being accepted on to the register of ADIs. In some cases, if your bankruptcy was a result of unscrupulous or even criminal activities, then it might. It is whether you are a fit and proper person that counts, and only DVSA can decide on that. I can’t tell you, and certainly none of the comedians on social media can, though they’ll have a fine old time trying to.

The short answer is yes, you can be an ADI if you are bankrupt – but it isn’t definite.

Now we come to the present situation. Once again, no one can tell you what is going to happen – there are still idiots claiming that this is ‘just flu’ and saying it will all blow over. To anyone who isn’t still swinging through trees and eating bananas as a career, though, it is clearly very serious, and there is every likelihood it will last for some time.

Most ADIs will be extremely concerned, and worrying how they are going to manage.

The most important thing is not to sit back and do nothing. You need to contact your creditors – whoever they are – and ask for help and advice. Do that as soon as possible. Remember that they are fully aware of the situation, and contrary to what those swinging through the trees will tell you on social media they are not trying to destroy you or your business. Frankly, and I’m thinking well ahead now, if any do refuse to help, just plan for when all this does end so that you can sue them into oblivion (or at least have the satisfaction of telling people what they were like on social media and review sites)!

Every conversation you have will be different. Don’t be confrontational, and work to a mutually acceptable payment plan. If you can do that, you’ll stave off bankruptcy. It’s when you can’t pay anything at all that the likelihood of it happening increases. Propose a suggested payment scheme, and bear in mind that they all know what the situation is right now and will probably surprise you with how accommodating they are. So don’t panic.

Another option is to use a debt management company, who can handle all of this for you. Ignore people on social media who tell you to avoid them – this is bankruptcy we’re talking about, which is never to be taken lightly, and you need all the help you can get. When I lost my previous job all those years ago I had a lot of debts (almost £30,000), and it was such a company who got me through it without declaring bankruptcy (and this is just the one I used, so there are others you could consider). It is also worth nothing that at the time, my credit rating was almost zero, whereas now it is as high as it could possibly be. You can survive, and you can recover. But not if you listen to people on social media. Remember that the clue is the word ‘social’ – you’ll be getting a collective opinion, most of which is wrong in the first place.

A word for the future. Being self-employed is always high-risk when situations like this arise. It’s not just when epidemics, the like of which no one has ever experienced before come along, but personal illness and injury. The cash flow can stop in an instant, putting your home and other assets at risk.

I’ve written about this elsewhere, but far too many instructors assume that every penny of their lesson fee is theirs once they take fuel costs off it. It isn’t. For every £25 an ADI takes (assuming a 30 lesson week), probably only around half of that is his once his business overheads are covered. And then, about 20% of what’s left belongs to the tax man. But far too many spend that £25 as if it’s all theirs.

In future – if you can – save. Don’t spend.

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An email when I got in tonight from DVSA. Here’s the full text:

Theory tests cancelled for 4 weeks

Due to the unfolding COVID-19 situation, from Friday 20 March 2020, all theory tests have been postponed until Monday 20 April 2020.

What DVSA is doing

We are emailing anyone with a test booked during this time to let them know their test has been cancelled and that they will be automatically refunded.

Your pupils should not rebook or rearrange their test at this time. Please do not call our customer service centre as they will not be able to help.

We will be monitoring the emerging situation and we will let you know if we need to cancel any more tests.

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This just came through. Driving tests are cancelled across the country for the next two days (19/20 March). Test centres are closing down. They will review the situation after that.

I’m not affected this week, but I have already warned my pupils with tests in the next month to be prepared for them not going ahead. I don’t see how they can do them with the situation developing the way it is.

It isn’t looking good.

Update 19/03/2020, 1.00pm: I have been speaking with many of my pupils who have tests in the next two weeks. I have explained to them that in my opinion there is a strong likelihood that tests are going to be cancelled for the foreseeable future. I pointed out that DVSA only sent out this communication at 9.40pm last night, and it means that ‘after that’ will fall over the weekend – so any further communication is unlikely (based on experience so far) until early next week.

One pupil decided we had better move his test back. I had booked it, and the earliest dates available are mid-June. From what I have heard elsewhere, DVSA is not allowing booking until then, so reading between the lines that is how long the test centres might be closed for. It’s three months.

I’m not saying that will happen. But at the moment it is a distinct possibility.

Update 19/03/2020 5.45pm: All tests have been cancelled in Northern Ireland for three months. Note that this is for Northern Ireland, which is a different agency to DVSA in the rest of the UK.

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