Taxi drivers and operators in Middlesbrough will be reimbursed after four years of “overcharging”

NEARLY £700,000 looks set to be paid back by Middlesbrough Council to Teesside taxi owners and operators after several years of overcharging for licences.

The potential refunds on the cost of the licences follows a decision by the Local Government Ombudsman and covers the four years from 2012/13 to 2015/16.

The plan, which will be considered at a council meeting on Wednesday, March 30, follows a review of the administration of taxi licensing in the town.

The council apologised to Teesside’s largest taxi company, Boro Taxis, after it was reprimanded by the ombudsman. Christine Bell, the taxi firm’s company secretary had made a complaint about the way fees were calculated.

Just over half of the reimbursement will be covered by council reserves, while the rest will be paid out from a surplus within the existing taxi licensing budget.

At the root of the over-charging was the Council’s ‘cross-subsidy’ approach to drivers’ fees, in which increases in fees to vehicle proprietors and private hire operators were used to off-set the fees payable by drivers.

But earlier this year, after the ombudsman decision, the council changed its fee structure and work was undertaken to establish how much money needed to be paid back to operators.

Councillor Julia Rostron, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Member for Adult Health and Social Care, said: “Our approach to taxi licensing for many years has been similar those of authorities up and down the country.

“Our aim has always been to be fair and even-handed, while offering an effective and responsive service.

“We have always endeavoured to support drivers as many are of limited means, but now accept that this approach could not be legally justified.

“However we will not seek to claw back any of the driver under-payments, particularly as the recent review has resulted in a significant increase in their licence fees.”