It seems certain that the Government will introduce minimum standards for taxi and private hire drivers. These minimum standards will place a duty on all licensing authorities to adopt the set standards. Will this be the answer to drivers seeking licences in areas where they have no intention of working?

Minimum standards

The Government has said that it will introduce legislation to introduce minimum standards for all taxi and private hire licence holders.

A number of things to note:

1. The Government is yet to determine which minimum standards to apply. This will require further engagement and consultation.
2. Legislative changes will be required to introduce these minimum standards and as the Government’s response indicated, this will happen “when time allows to enable these”. This therefore means that is can still take several years.
3. The minimum standards will require licensing authorities to adopt the standards. This will mean that local policies will need to change to accommodate this.
4. The standards are the “minimum” to be applied and it appears from the Government’s response that council’s will retain the discretion to set higher standards. The Government said the minimum standards will be set but “with the important right of local licensing authorities to set conditions appropriate for their areas.”

The Government has no given an indication of what the minimum standards will look like. However, I fairly good guess would be:

1. Mandatory enhanced criminal records checks including checks against the barring list
2. Group 2 medicals
3. A driving proficiency standard
4. An English proficiency standard
5. Mandatory safeguarding and equality training requirements

The Government has not given any indication whether local geographical knowledge requirements will also be implemented. The Government’s stance on cross-border hiring and its focus on mainly safeguarding issues suggest that this may not become a requirement.

Existing policies

As I referred to above, once the national standards are legislated, most, if not all, licensing policies will need to be amended. In some cases, policies will undergo substantial amendments for example in areas where policies have traditionally been weak which has been exploited by licence holders.

Indications are that individual councils will retain the discretion to adopt higher standards.

The question remains, will national minimum standards stem the follow of licence holders seeking licences in areas where they do not intend to work?

My view is that it will not. This is because, whilst there will be minimum standards, some councils will opt for the minimum whilst other councils will seek to find higher standards. This will again create an uneven playing field that will result in licence holders continuing to seek out areas where standards are lower – although it be the statutory minimum standards.

The Government has, though its response, indicated very little appetite for addressing cross-border hiring by, for example, introducing a statutory definition of plying for hire or mandating that PHVs return to base.

Whilst it is not likely to solve the problem of out of town vehicles, minimum national standards will, in theory, provide councils and the public with assurance that the driver is fit and proper because they are licensed to a minimum national standard.

But will minimum national standards improve passenger safety?

The answer to this will depend on how the minimum national standards are implemented. Once they are adopted through legislation, policies and procedures will need to be updated.

New applications will be determined immediately against revised polices. Renewal applications are less straightforward.

The normal process would be for renewal applicants to come under a revised policy when they renew their licences. Depending on the scale of the individual policy review, bringing existing licence holder up to, at least, the minimum national standards may take time. This of course also depends on the wording of the legislation and whether a transitional period will be allowed for.

Stephen McCaffrey

Regulatory defence barrister specialising in taxi and private hire licensing law, appeals and defence.

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