Transport chiefs have told Uber drivers they must apply for new criminal record checks. Regulators have rejected the taxi giants current vetting process and are writing to 13,000 minicab drivers telling them their background checks are no longer valid. Up to a tenth of the company’s workforce now has 28 days to make new applications for vetting or risk being struck off. Some of the drivers work for other companies but Uber is responsible for the largest majority of people.
A spokesman for Uber said: ‘Every private hire driver in London has been through the same Enhanced DBS background check that black cab drivers go through. ‘These background checks are all carried out by the government’s Disclosure and Barring Service. ‘Uber does not process the background checks, does not require potential drivers to use a specific provider, and does not have a say in who gets licensed. ‘It is ultimately up to the regulator (TfL in London) to review the application and DBS check and decide who is granted a licence.’
Last month police accused the firm of failing to report crimes on passengers with figures showing sex attack claims involving Uber drivers are up 50 per cent in a year in the capital. The Sunday Times reported officers were concerned the US company was ‘allowing situations to develop that clearly affect the safety and security of the public’.
Last week it was revealed the man arrested and charged with a terror related incident at Buckingham Palace worked for Uber. Mohiussunnath Chowdhury allegedly attacked three police officers with a samurai sword while shouting ‘Allahu akbar’. And in December 2015 a former Uber driver, Muhiddin Mire, tried to behead a stranger in a London Tube station, yelling: ‘This is for my Syrian brothers.’
All would-be minicab drivers in London must be checked against information held by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), a government agency, for criminal records, unsuitability to work with children or police warnings. TfL accepted these certificates until this year. However, it said this weekend that ‘following a recent review of policy’ it would no longer accept them from Onfido or any other ‘third-party provider’ but only its own contractor. TfL declined to describe its concerns about Onfido and other providers.
The company which runs using an app allows customers to book a taxi anywhere – meaning councils are powerless to regulate the company. Currently local taxi businesses are licensed by local authorities but the new technology firm operates across borders. Police figures show sex attack claims involving Uber drivers are up 50 per cent in a year in the capital.
Between February 2015 and February 2016, there were 32 claims made against the firm’s drivers in London. But in the past 12 months to February 2017, that figure shot up to 48 alleged attacks.
The Local Government Association (LGA), the body representing councils in England and Wales, said laws dating back to 1847 needed updating to protect passengers and create a level field. The LGA has urged the Government to support legislation to modernise the licensing system. It wants national minimum licensing standards for drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles, a national database of all licensed taxi and private hire vehicles drivers, and cross border hiring.
Councils cannot take enforcement action against the rising numbers of taxi drivers licensed by other authorities operating in their area, the LGA claimed.
Uber has been accused of failing passengers by not reporting sex attacks to the police in a letter from Scotland Yard. It argued while local mini cab companies and black cabs have to adhere to the rules, Uber and other firms from outside licensing areas escape scrutiny despite operating on the same roads. There are also concerns drivers who have been refused or had a licence revoked by one authority were able to be licensed by another authority.
Earlier this month, the Daily Mail reported that according to police, Uber had not been reporting sex attacks by its drivers. The firm was accused of putting passenger safety at risk by failing to inform officers of ‘serious crimes’ in a formal letter from Scotland Yard. The alleged offences included at least six sex attacks and an assault. In one case, the firm was alerted to a sexual assault on a woman by a driver but took no action after he denied it. The driver was only blocked from working after he committed a more serious attack on a second woman.
During the Rotherham child sex grooming scandal, a ‘common thread’ emerged that taxi drivers would pick the children up for sex from care homes and schools. The Mail also revealed earlier this year how David Cameron and George Osborne allegedly told aides to lobby Boris Johnson against curbs on Uber. When Mr Johnson was mayor of London in September 2015 he threatened to curtail the activities of the smartphone app.