The idea of asking someone to drive a taxi or private hire vehicle such as a minicab is nothing new. We’ve all heard of London taxi drivers doing the “Knowledge” to get the right to drive the iconic black cab, and have seen the metal plates on taxis in other parts of the UK demonstrating that the car has been approved for private hire. Taxi licensing however isn’t something managed by government on a country-wide basis. Each local authority across the UK does its own thing and has its own process for approving people to work as taxi drivers. This has obviously led to inconsistencies, and so it’s hardly surprising that the government is trying to develop a more consistent approach.
Statutory Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Standards
In July 2020, the UK government released a 40 page document setting out the minimum standard expected of any person driving a taxi in England and Wales. The guidance came in response to alarming figures suggesting that across England and Wales, 623 sexual assaults on taxi customers are reported each year. Given that these offences are widely under-reported to police, the problem could be much higher. The government also highlights potential issues around children under the age of 18 using taxis, most often to travel to or from school. These new standards are intended to make travel in a taxi safer for everyone, and in particular, to reduce risk for the most vulnerable.
The new framework is long and complex. However, the most important points which can be pulled out of the guidance are as follows:
- Enhanced Disclosure Checks – local authorities are obliged to get enhanced DBS checks on all applicants for licences. This is the most detailed level of criminal checking, and most councils across the UK are doing this already.
- Barred Lists – this is a further check to make sure the person does not apply on the registers of people legally blocked from working with adults, children, or both.
- Safeguarding – Councils are advised (but not legally ordered) to provide additional safeguarding training to all drivers.
- County Lines – the guidance highlights the growing issues around county lines drug dealing, where children and vulnerable adults are used to courier drugs or money around the country. Councils are being urged to include training on spotting potential exploitation in their safeguarding.
- Language Proficiency – many local authorities already have a test of spoken English in the licensing process, but the new advice recommends that this is done across England and Wales, covering both spoken and written language ability.
- Taxi Operators – in addition to drivers requiring a DBS check, the advice recommends that people owning and operating taxi companies (even if never driving themselves) undergo a fit and proper person check. This is a Basic DBS check, to make sure that the person has no recent, or serious, convictions.
- CCTV recording – Local Authorities are advised to put in a further layer of safeguarding by looking at whether in certain situations, such as for home to school transport, having in-car recording would improve safety for passengers and driver.