Taxi & Private Hire Licensing Update
Report of the Assistant Director for Community.
The Licensing Officer provided Members with a detailed overview of the report that outlined information on the proposed legislative changes.
At the request of the Department for Transport, the Law Commission carried out a project on reforming Taxi and Private Hire Law. A consultation paper was produced in 2012 to which there were over 3000 responses. The Law Commission produced their final report, recommendations and a draft bill (Taxis & Private Hire Vehicles Bill) in May 2014. The aim of the consultation was to examine how the complex, fragmented and aged pieces of legislation could be made fit for modern purposes.
The following provided a summary of the proposals contained in the draft Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles Bill:
- Taxi and Private Hire licensing would remain a licensing authority function. There would be an internal appeal process against decisions to refuse or suspend a licence which would then be followed by an appeal to the magistrates’ court. There would also be a mechanism to challenge policy in the County Court (as opposed to the existing judicial review system in the High Court). There would be new powers for licensing authorities to create and modify taxi zones.
- The two tier system would be retained (to be called Taxis and Private Hire vehicles) with taxis able to take ‘there and then’ hiring’s in their own districts but Private Hire Vehicles prohibited from doing the same.
- Private hire dispatchers would require licensing to send the vehicle and driver but those who advertise and accept bookings would not be required to be licensed.
- Private hire drivers and vehicles licensed anywhere would be able to work for any private hire dispatcher permitting a mix and match of licensing authorities.
- A national minimum standard was proposed for private hire vehicles and taxi. There would be the possibility of higher and/or additional standards for taxis which could be set locally. There would be basic national standards for drivers and dispatchers and all application forms would be prescribed by regulations.
- Quantity restrictions would remain possible but based on the test of public interest, as opposed to the current test of unmet demand.
- There would be a duty for drivers to stop when hailed, if applied by the licensing authority.
- Licensing officers would have powers to stop and inspect vehicles and issue fixed penalty notices irrespective of where the vehicle was licensed.
- It was proposed that standard drivers’ licences would last for 3 years, vehicle licences for 1 year and dispatchers’ licences to run for 5 years with shorter periods possible if deemed appropriate.
It was worth noting if there was a change of government after the next general election there could be further delays to the passage of the Taxis & Private Hire Vehicles Bill.
The Deregulation Bill was with the House of Lords for consideration having completed all stages of readings and committees in the House of Commons. A commencement date was not yet known.
The Deregulation Bill contained three clauses relating to Taxis and Private Hire vehicles, which were:
- Clause 10 relating to private hire vehicles and the circumstances in which a driver’s licence was required. Under the current legislation, it was an offence under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 for an unlicensed driver to drive a licensed private hire vehicle. The Deregulation Bill proposed to alter this by permitting leisure use of private hire vehicles by an unlicensed driver. However, the Bill stated that if a vehicle was being used as a private hire vehicle, being used on the road and for carrying passengers an offence was still committed by an unlicensed driver. The usual burden of proof is reversed so the driver has to prove that the vehicle was not being used as a private hire vehicle. It is worth noting that this situation already applied in London.
- Clause 11 of the Bill again amended the current Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 in relation to the duration of licences. A standard duration of 3 years for taxi and private hire driver licences was proposed. The Council already issued these licences for this duration. Clause 11 also established a standard duration of 5 years for a private hire vehicle operator licence. Shorter periods may be granted for all licences but only in individual circumstances not as a blanket policy. Breckland’s current standard duration stands at 3 years.
- Clause 12 relates to sub-contracting of private hire vehicles. Currently the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 only permitted sub-contracting of private hire vehicle bookings to another operator licensed by the same Council. The proposal would allow sub-contracts to operators licensed by other local authorities.
Councillor Sharpe commented that he was concerned about the Licensing Officers having the powers to stop and inspect vehicles.
The Licensing Officer said that it would be an adoptive power, and there were requirements that would need to be followed.
The Licensing and Business Support Officer stated that there would be Health and Safety issues which would need to be assessed appropriately.
RESOLVED that the report be noted by the Committee, however Members raised concern about the Health and Safety of a Licensing Officer should it be required to stop and inspect vehicles. The appropriate risk assessments should be carried out if this was required.