A “worrying” loophole that allows people to drive members of the public in minibuses without having a criminal record check must be solved by urgently updating taxi licensing laws, councils have warned.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils, says the safeguarding flaw is a huge loophole which is putting the public at an increased risk of harm, including those who may be more vulnerable after a night out.
Under current laws, drivers of Public Carriage Vehicles (PCVs) - those seating between nine and sixteen passengers - are licensed by the DVLA but are not subject to a criminal record check.
This contrasts with councils whose licensing of taxis – both hackney carriages and private hire vehicles – requires drivers to produce an up-to-date enhanced criminal record check. Councils have the power to refuse or revoke a licence if a driver has convictions or cautions, or has behaved in a way that they believe renders the driver a risk to the public.
The loophole means that drivers refused a taxi or PHV licence, or whose licences have been revoked by councils, are obtaining a PCV licence and then continuing to operate in the same area - sometimes working for the same company. The drivers are effectively operating as licensed drivers by transporting members of the public around in larger vehicles, despite not having had the same checks or being deemed not ‘fit and proper’ to do so by the council.
The LGA says the loophole is undermining work to safeguard taxi passengers and is urging the Government to amend the law to ensure that 9-16 seater vehicles are licensed by councils in line with the requirements for taxis and minicabs. The Law Commission made recommendations on this in its 2014 report into taxi licensing, but the Government has yet to respond to the report or introduce a taxi reform Bill.
- A taxi driver whose licence was revoked following a conviction for harassment and further allegations of harassment and inappropriate conduct with a child was granted a PCV licence.
- A taxi driver whose licence was refused for issues relating to misconduct - mainly with young female and vulnerable passengers - was granted a PCV licence within six months, working for the same company.
- A taxi driver whose licence was revoked for inappropriate conduct with two young female passengers - specifically using data from booking and dispatch records to call and text them from his mobile phone - is working for the same taxi company as a PCV driver.
- A man who, after being refused a taxi licence twice, drove his car through the barrier of the site where the councils’ officers were based in order to confront them, is now driving a 16-seat minibus taxi.
As larger minibus taxis become more commonplace, the LGA says that it is vital that the public receives the same level of protection regardless of whether they are using a standard sized taxi, minicab or minibus.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “The majority of PCV drivers will be people whom the public can trust, but this loophole provides an opportunity for unscrupulous drivers to continue to work in close proximity to passengers, even when a council has determined that they are not safe to do so.
“Anyone who books or flags down a standard taxi has the reassurance that all drivers are vetted and licensed by councils. The same safeguarding checks should apply to anyone driving a nine to 16-seat minibus.
“Larger minibuses are often sent in place of a regular taxi to pick up individuals or small parties, purely because they are nearest to the pick-up point rather than because there is a requirement for such a large vehicle. They are used to take groups of children to school, or to drive groups home after nights out.
“It is therefore extremely worrying that councils’ proactive work to protect taxi passengers from harm - and particularly those who may be most vulnerable - is being undermined by this loophole.
“We are urging the Government to act quickly to address this and bring PCVs into line with other local taxi licensing requirements.
“Two-and-a-half years after the Law Commission’s report into taxi licensing, this issue shows why it is vital that the Government introduces a Taxi Reform Bill to address this and the many other anomalies hindering our taxi licensing system.”