As we emerge from the immediate Covid emergency in to recovery, some licensing authorities are still not accepting new driver applications. What are the options available to applicants? 

First, lets look at the legal position

Section 51 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 states:

“Subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act, a district council shall, on the receipt of an application from any person for the grant to that person of a licence to drive private hire vehicles, grant to that person a driver’s licence.”

Clearly the grant of a driver’s licence is subject to the requirement to be a fit and proper person.  The section continues: “that the applicant is a fit and proper person to hold a driver’s licence.”

What is the issue?

The crux of the issue is the ability of licensing authorities to assess the fitness and propriety of new applicants.  Licensing authorities that are not accepting new applications at the moment claim that refusal to do so is justified on safeguarding grounds because they cannot fully assess the fitness and propriety of new applicants.

For example, they are not able to properly verify documents, applicant’s identities, officiate local knowledge tests and/or provide mandatory training.

Is there a right to appeal?

The fact that some local authorities are no accepting applications for new driver licences, does not in any way preclude any person from submitting an application in any event. 

The licensing authority will be under a duty to determine the application.  There are two options; the licensing authority can refuse the application or they can put it in a state of ‘consideration’ until such a time as they are in a position to fully assess the fitness and propriety of the applicant.  Both approaches present the licensing authority with potential difficulties. 

If the licence application is refused, there is a right of appeal.  The legislation limits grounds of refusal to ‘fit and proper’.  The licensing authority might argue that its inability to undertake a full ‘fit and proper’ assessment means it could not satisfy itself that the applicant is fit and proper and therefore the grounds for refusal are satisfied.  

The success of this approach will come down to the individua merits of the case.  If you are facing legal difficulties with your licence application, please contact us. 

The other option might leave the licensing authority open to an ombudsman complaint of maladministration.  

The ombudsman clearly states on its website that it “can also investigate complaints about the way a council has dealt with issues such as fare increases and licence fees, or about delays in handling licence applications.” 

The licensing authority might complain that they are a victim of circumstances brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.  Again there is no similar cases to draw on but the licensing authority will need to satisfy the ombudsman that it acted reasonably.  A drawn-out delay that could not reasonably be justified will leave the authority liable to a compensation order and reputational damage. 

An example of the ombudsman’s remit can be demonstrated in this case: 

The council wrongly told Mr X he did not need to take a topographical test when he applied to be a taxi driver.  When the council corrected this error the test facility was closed. The council agreed to our recommendation to pay Mr X £200 to remedy the loss of opportunity to get his licence for six weeks and £100 to remedy his undue time and trouble making his complaint.” 

We must be clear that each case will need to be determined on its individual merits and the remedies in this article will not be appropriate in every circumstance.  Please contact us for a free, no-obligation assessment of your case.

Stephen McCaffrey

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

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