Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill: Second Reading House of Commons 10 September 2021

The LGA welcomes this Bill which would make it mandatory for licensing authorities to access vital background information about drivers seeking a licence in their areas. This will support the work of councils to ensure anyone using a taxi or private hire vehicle (PHV) is kept safe.


Key messages

  • The LGA welcomes this Bill which would make it mandatory for licensing authorities to access vital background information about drivers seeking a licence in their areas. This will support the work of councils to ensure anyone using a taxi or private hire vehicle (PHV) is kept safe.
  • This Bill aims to build on work carried out by the LGA to address the issue of taxi drivers losing a licence in one area but then applying for a licence in another area without declaring their previous licensing history. This has significant implications for improving community safety.
  • In 2018, the LGA funded the development of the National Register of Licence Revocations and Refusals (NR3), which is hosted by the National Anti-Fraud Network (NAFN). NAFN is a shared service, hosted by Tameside council, which supports public authorities to tackle fraud and share intelligence. 
  • NR3 would be the obvious database to support this Bill given that this system is already in place and widely used by licensing authorities. 
  • The Bill would be an important first step in updating outdated legislation governing taxis and PHV licensing, which has not kept pace with developments in technology and changes in the wider taxis and PVH market. While the Bill takes steps to address these challenges and improve community safety, further action is needed to provide councils with the enforcement powers they need to take action against vehicles operating in their areas, irrespective of where they are licensed. 
  • The LGA is urging the Department for Transport to bring forward a comprehensive Taxi and PHV Licensing Reform Bill to replace the current outdated legislation and make the licensing system for taxis and PHVs fit for the 21st century. This should cover the full range of safeguarding, market and enforcement issues that need addressing, to the benefit of both passengers and the trade.  

Intelligence sharing

We support the principle of this Bill as it makes provision for councils to share information of recent adverse licensing history (refusals, suspensions or revocations of licences). The LGA believes that the database chosen for this information sharing should be the national register of licence revocations and refusals (NR3). NR3 is already widely used by licensing authorities and has proven effective in identifying applicants who are found to be not fit and proper.

The LGA launched NR3 in 2018, and it is managed by the National Anti-Fraud Network (NAFN). NAFN is a shared service, hosted by Tameside council, which supports public authorities to tackle fraud and share intelligence. NAFN worked with the LGA and a user group of licensing officers from a range of local authorities to develop the NR3 register. 

The simple objective of NR3 is to provide a mechanism for licensing authorities to record details of where a taxi or PHV drivers’ licence has previously been refused or revoked. This allows licensing authorities to check new applicants against the register and make an informed decision on whether an applicant is fit and proper when making a licensing decision.

There is a long-standing issue in the taxi and PHV licensing system, whereby individuals who have had their licences revoked or refused by a local authority, for example for serious safeguarding or driving offenses, can simply apply for a licence with another local authority. NR3 is a vital tool in tackling this. Before the introduction of NR3, there was no central database of drivers’ history of revocations and refusals, and local authorities had to rely on applicants to self-disclose this information. As a result, crucial intelligence could be missed, which could pose a potential risk to public safety. 

It is welcome that the Department for Transport’s statutory standards, published in June 2020, recommended that databases such as NR3 should be used by licensing authorities. The Bill builds on these standards by mandating the use of a database, such as NR3. Therefore, licensing authorities would be required to record licensing decisions on a database and check applicants against the database before reaching any licensing decisions.  

Proposed changes to the NR3

Section 4 (6) of the Bill makes provision for the Secretary of State to set and approve fees for the use of the database. Currently NR3 is one element of the wider NAFN database. The NAFN database is used by a range of council departments and is delivered on a not-for-profit basis. As the system was set up and is run independently of the Department of Transport, the responsibility for setting fees should continue to rest with NAFN, who host the NR3 and understand the costs of running it.

We are also concerned about the inclusion of suspension details within the scope of the Bill, as these were specifically excluded from the database when it was established. The NR3 database’s primary function is safeguarding. Adding suspension information to the database could result in drivers being added for administrative issues, such as late payment of fees, or short-term punishments for minor transgressions, which should not influence future licensing decisions. If the matter is serious enough to warrant a driver being prevented from driving, the licence would be revoked, rather than suspended. We therefore believe that the system should continue to focus on revocations and refusals.

A register of refusals and revocations cannot solve the many challenges facing councils in regulating taxis and PHVs on its own. However, this Bill is an important step to tackling the specific issue of individuals making applications to different licensing authorities following a refusal or revocation. 

Out of area working

The Bill would also make it compulsory for councils to report concerns about out of-area drivers. Authorities will need to report concerns to the authority which licensed the driver in question; these authorities will then be required to make a decision about whether or not a driver’s licence should be suspended or revoked. 

The proliferation of taxis and private hire vehicles working out of area and across local authority borders has undermined councils’ ability to safeguard the public, as they are unable to take enforcement action against taxi drivers licensed by other local authorities even if they are operating in their areas. This is an issue that the LGA has consistently raised with Government. The new duty will create a requirement to report and act on concerns about out of area drivers. This is a helpful development which we support. However, it does not address wider issues relating to cross-border hiring and does not address the fundamental issue that authorities cannot themselves take enforcement action against out of area drivers operating in their areas. 

Wider reform of existing Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) legislation

The LGA has consistently called for urgent reform to the outdated legislation that governs taxi and PHV licensing. Piecemeal changes to legislation in recent years have not kept pace with rapid advances in technology, which have changed the way taxis and PHVs operate in the 21st century. This has made it increasingly difficult for councils to fulfil their duties around public protection.

While the legislation relating to taxis and Private Hire Vehicles is extensive, it is mainly concentrated in the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. Within London, taxis and PHVs are licenced under the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869 and London Cab Order 1934. This legislation provides a broad framework for the licensing of drivers, vehicles and operators, but the detail of how this is done, including standards and conditions, is the responsibility of individual district and unitary councils.

Over time, different policies and standards have been developed by different licensing authorities, leading to a patchwork of standards and a lack of consistency across different areas.

The LGA has long called for the introduction of national minimum standards to address this. We are therefore pleased that the Government has now published new statutory standards and that this Bill would mandate the use of a database, such as NR3. 

However, we believe there is still an urgent need for comprehensive reform of the existing legislation. A key challenge is the increase in the volume of out of area working, partly due to the widespread use of app based private hire models. This has raised concerns about how new taxi/PHV service operating models fit into the current framework, with many drivers now working outside the area they are licensed in. This causes issues including enforcement officers being unable to take action against drivers and vehicles licensed outside their areas, and congestion and disruption to local residents.

Urgent changes are needed to support councils to deal with the changing way taxis and PHVs are operating and ensure more stringent public protection measures are built into the licensing framework. We are therefore calling for Government to follow up this Bill by introducing a comprehensive Taxi and PHV Reform Bill that covering the full range of safeguarding, market and enforcement issues that need addressing.

Contact

Megan Edwards, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

megan.edwards@local.gov.uk