The parcel giant DPD has launched a wholesale review of its business following the death of one of its couriers, Don Lane, who was charged £150 for attending a hospital appointment to treat the diabetes that killed him.
The courier firm this week faced anger among MPs and concern from major customers including Marks & Spencer and John Lewis after the Guardian revealed how the 53-year old missed specialist renal appointments partly because he did not want to be charged for missing his rounds.
The charges are part of a controversial system that DPD applies to most of its 5,000 self-employed couriers if they cannot find cover.
Dwain McDonald, chief executive of the company that earned over £100m in annual profits according to its last accounts, said: “Don Lane was incorrectly charged £150 for not providing services when in fact he was attending a hospital appointment. This was a mistake and we are profoundly sorry. No one should ever be made to feel like they are unable to attend appointments relating to their health.
“Like all companies, we need to learn from our mistakes. As a result, we are carrying out an extensive consultation with our depots and drivers as part of a strategic review of our arrangements. When we have completed the consultation and collected all the feedback, we will be making further announcements.
“In the meantime, I can confirm that no franchisee driver will be charged for attending healthcare appointments and I will be ensuring that this is the case.”
The business secretary, Greg Clark, on Wednesday described Lane’s death as “a terrible tragedy”, while Downing Street’s adviser on modern work, Matthew Taylor, said it was “shocking”.
DPD is separately facing an employment tribunal claim brought by couriers with the support of the GMB trade union arguing they are bogusly self-employed and should be treated as workers with rights to holiday pay and the minimum wage.
Lane, 53, a married father of one from Dorset, had collapsed twice at the wheel of his DPD van before he finally collapsed on 30 December and was pronounced dead in Bournemouth hospital on 4 January. His funeral took place last week.
A spokesman for M&S, one of the courier firm’s biggest clients, said earlier this week it was “very sad” about Lane’s death. It added: “The circumstances will be raised as part of our ongoing discussions with courier providers.” John Lewis also indicated it wants answers from DPD, which is ultimately owned by GeoPost, part of the French company La Poste.
McDonald added: “We are all devastated by the news of Don Lane’s passing and our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends at this extremely difficult time.”
The decision to launch a wholesale review also follows anger from road safety campaigners after it emerged that McDonald had boasted at a business conference about how he broke the law by driving along the M62 motorway while using his phone to take a photograph of a DPD van.
Lane’s case threw up road safety concerns because he had collapsed twice at the wheel of his van, once while delivering parcels in Dorset. His doctor also raised concerns about how Lane was being monitored to ensure that he was fit to drive according to DVLA guidance.
The DPD health and safety policy, signed off by McDonald himself, states: “Managers and supervisors are expected to lead by example.” It says: “Employees must not knowingly act in a way that damages the reputation of the company or causes either them or the company to be in breach of the law.”