Taxi drivers could be exploiting a postcode lottery to avoid stringent criminal records checks, the Local Government Association has warned. Inconsistencies in the level of checks carried out by different local authorities means that drivers with criminal records or poor driving standards could target places perceived to have rules which were less tough, a spokesman said. “Some might have limitations about certain types of previous convictions on drivers so there might be discrepancies on that in some areas, or they might not need to pass a local knowledge test, for example,” he added.
The areas with lighter requirements are well-known among the taxi community, he added, raising concerns that exploitative taxi drivers could play the system to target areas which do not carry out detailed checks. “Drivers may apply for a license in one council and be rejected, so then they go somewhere else and they say yes, because they meet the criteria there,” he added.
Councils are unable to take action against drivers operating in their area who have been licensed by a different council, the LGA added, causing “huge frustration” for local drivers who “may have had to comply with more rigorous licensing standards”.
Last year the council in Rotherham, where drivers were part of an organised ring which picked up and abused more than 1,000 young girls over 16 years, changed its taxi licensing policy to “rebuild trust and confidence in Rotherham’s taxi industry”. The new rules require drivers to have safeguarding training, banned them from having children in the front seat of a vehicle, and required the installation of cameras in most taxis.
The LGA is calling for a Government-enforced law which would create a “level playing field” for drivers.
Cllr Clive Woodbridge, deputy chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “In recent years, we’ve seen a number of child sexual exploitation cases that have involved taxi and PHV holders abusing the trust that has been placed in them, so there are strong safeguarding reasons for strengthening current legislation.” Existing legislation dates back to 1847, when horse-drawn hackney carriages required regulation, and is not suitable for modern taxi firms which use mobile technology, the LGA added.
The launch of Uber in many UK towns and cities has caused controversy among the existing private hire and taxi firms. The mobile app charges cheaper prices than local firms in some cities and enables passengers to electronically book cabs, raising complaints among taxi drivers in some areas that it essentially allows the “hailing” of a minicab.
Mr Woodbridge added that app-based firms are “causing concern about whether drivers are able to compete on a level playing field and has led to numerous and costly legal challenges which local licensing authorities are being forced to spend public money on.