The LGA welcomes this Bill which would make it mandatory for licensing authorities to access vital background information about drivers seeking a taxi/ private hire vehicle (PHV) licence in their areas. This will support the work of councils to ensure anyone using a taxi or PHV is kept safe.
- The LGA welcomes this Bill which would make it mandatory for licensing authorities to access vital background information about drivers seeking a taxi/ private hire vehicle (PHV) licence in their areas. This will support the work of councils to ensure anyone using a taxi or 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- The Bill would be an important first step in updating outdated taxi and PHV licensing legislation, which has not kept pace with developments in technology and changes in the wider taxis and PVH market.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 some of the most serious of these challenges and improve community safety, further action is needed to provide councils with the enforcement powers they need to take action against all 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the Department for Transport to bring forward a comprehensive Taxi and PHV Licensing Reform Bill to replace the current outdated legislation and make the licensing system for taxis and PHVs fit for the 21st century.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.
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.
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 a general principle, the LGA believes that licensing fees should be set locally rather than under the control of Secretaries of State, to ensure that the principle of full cost recovery can be achieved. If a different model is adopted in this instance, it will be vitally important that a centrally approved fee structure does not impact the broader NAFN role in providing a range of data and anti-fraud services to councils. We understand that the Department for Transport is looking into options to cover local authorities’ costs to accessing the NR3 database, which we would support.
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, and this is a helpful development which we support. However, it does not address wider issues relating to cross-border hiring, nor does it address the fundamental issue that local authorities cannot 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. 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. Within London, taxis and PHVs are licensed by Transport for London under the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869 and London Cab Order 1934. 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. In addition to enforcement officers not being able to take action against drivers and vehicles licensed outside their areas, this can also contribute toward congestion and cause disruption to local residents, as well as causing friction within the trade.
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 covering the full range of safeguarding, market and enforcement issues that need addressing.
This is particularly important in the context of the Levelling Up White Paper’s proposals to reform the way in which taxi/PHV licensing is managed in England. A major reform to the authorities responsible for undertaking taxi/PHV licensing as proposed should not be considered in isolation: it must be part of a full and integrated review of all the changes required in taxi/PHV licensing.