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LGA - Councils back licensing bill to establish national database of taxi drivers

The Local Government Association is today backing a Private Members Bill, led by Daniel Zeichner MP, to introduce a legal register that ensures local authorities are in the know about drivers seeking a licence in their areas despite previously been banned or refused a licence elsewhere.

Councils have led the way on this issue, developing a voluntary database of licence refusals and revocations, and are backing the bill’s call for this register to become mandatory.

The LGA has consistently called for a taxi licensing regime “fit for the 21st Century” and believes that this bill could be an essential first step towards updating Britain’s outdated and unfit-for-purpose licensing laws for taxis.

Some taxi laws date back to 1847 and the era of horse-drawn hackney carriages, and the current patchwork of outdated laws leaves councils with restricted powers to enforce taxi licensing requirements in their area.

In particular, if a driver has been banned or refused in a particular area, it is difficult for councils to be able to stop that person from gaining a licence somewhere else if the driver does not disclose their previous history. The LGA is hoping this new bill will make it easier for local authorities to share this information, building on the register that the LGA has already commissioned.

The Licensing of Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill 2017-19 is due for its second reading this Friday, 2nd February, and will extend safeguarding measures to taxi drivers. The Bill will require authorities to record all refusals and revocations on a national register, as well as requiring them to cross-reference new applications against the register, to stop rogue drivers securing licences elsewhere.

Alongside safeguarding worries, the LGA has concerns that a failure to update cab legislation:

  • Takes no account of the increase in app-based taxi services such as Hailo, Uber, and other companies, which has led to concern over how new models fit within the outdated framework and results in legal challenges which are costly and disruptive for councils, residents, and industry.
  • Has opened the floodgates for drivers operating across licensing authority borders, with councils unable to take enforcement action against taxi drivers licensed by other local authorities, even if they are operating in their areas.
  • Has undermined the level playing field between different parts of the cab industry and drivers licensed in different areas.

As a result, the LGA is throwing its support behind a bill to be debated this Friday which it says will help protect both passengers and reputable drivers.

This bill would be a positive first step towards the licensing regime for taxis that is desperately needed for the 21st Century.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

“We’ve seen numerous cases where drivers have abused the trust of their passengers, with even children becoming victims of sexual exploitation cases. In some cases, drivers banned in one area have simply gone to the other part of the country and got a licence under false pretences, without being honest about their history.

“Building on the work the LGA has started, this bill will make it a requirement for councils to record all refusals and revocations on a register, and cross-reference this for new applicants. We support this bill as an essential first step towards updating taxi licensing and improving safety.

“Although this bill will be a positive first step, we need to move towards taxi licensing that accounts for today’s challenges, not ones we faced decades ago, which is why we would urge the Government to go further than this bill, and deliver a licensing framework fit for the age in which we live.

“Councils have been making the case for our outdated patchwork of taxi laws to be updated with a taxi regime fit for the 21st Century, and it’s now time for government to deliver this.

“We have been pleased to be a part of the Government’s taxi and PHV working group, and urge the Government to build on the work of the group by introducing a reform Bill at the earliest opportunity.

“The current regime is not fit for purpose – some parts of the law pre-date the internal combustion engine, let alone apps and smartphones – and it’s long past time we had taxi licensing laws that reflect the everyday realities of this industry, and its vital role in our communities.”

CASE STUDIES

Councils do all they can to prosecute those who break the law, and several successful examples of councils doing so are below. However, the LGA is concerned that the lack of updated legislation means successful prosecutions are just the tip of an iceberg, and the below examples illustrate the seriousness of the need for more updated legislation.

Walsall Council had to take action against a man who impersonated his brother in order to obtain a taxi driver’s licence. Between 7 February and 16 March 2017, Moshin Zeb carried out over 500 pre-booked taxi journeys for profit, despite being uninsured and disqualified from driving. A member of the public tipped off the council and under questioning from local licensing officers discovered Zeb had been fraudulently using his brother’s identity. Zeb was charged, found guilty, and sentenced to 28 months for 5 counts of fraud. He was also disqualified from driving for 3 years and 6 months.

Wealden District Council brought action against a man who was operating an unlicensed taxi service that faced numerous complaints regarding a poor level of service, including many people left stranded and out of pocket from a failure to arrive to pre-booked appointments and airport runs. Despite having his taxi licence revoked and repeated council warnings, Ashley Hussey continued to drive his unlicensed taxi, and trade as “Village Cars”, with his vehicle logged in the vicinity of Gatwick Airport on more than 80 separate occasions. The Council were able to bring action against Mr Hussey, and he was disqualified from driving for 18 months and fined £4,700.

Liverpool City Council cracked down on more than 2,000 drivers from Liverpool and surrounding authorities. Almost three quarters of cases involved privately owned vehicles parking illegally in hackney taxi ranks, a huge concern for hackney cab drivers as it frustrates their business, with almost thirty drivers penalised for illegally plying for hire and associated insurance offences. Other offences included 125 vehicles with illegal tyres, and 79 cases where drivers failed to wear or display their badge. The council was able to step up its enforcement action over the past year, thanks to a partnership with police to tackle vehicles not complying with the law.

Notes to Editor

  1. Find out more about Daniel Zeichner MP’s proposed bill, the Licensing of Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill 2017-19, due for its second reading this coming Friday, 2 February.
  2. Taxi and private hire vehicle legislation is primarily concentrated in the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976.
  3. In 2011 the Department for Transport invited the Law Commission to undertake a review of taxi and PHV licensing. The Commission’s 2014 report included a draft Bill with a comprehensive set of proposals to completely update and replace taxi and PHV legislation. The Government has not formally responded to the Law Commission’s report, but used the Deregulation Act 2015 to introduce a small number of their proposals independently of the wider reforms. The main impact of this was to increase the flexibility for PHV drivers to operate outside the specific licensing authority area in which they are licensed, but without giving licensing authorities the powers the Law Commission envisaged to take enforcement action against out of area drivers.
  4. The LGA has updated its handbook for councillors to provide best practice in taxi licensing.
  5. The LGA has commissioned the development of a national database of taxi and PHV licence refusals and revocations in which councils can record details of individuals who have been refused or revoked. Other councils will be able to check new applicants against the register.
Original article link: https://www.local.gov.uk/about/news/councils-back-licensing-bill-establish-national-database-taxi-drivers

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