Taxi and private hire licensing is strictly regulated, more so than most other types of licensing. Cleary there are good reasons for this however such a strictly regulated regime also such as hackney carriage and private hire licensing also places a wide range of strict and stringent statutory duties on licence holders.
Taxi Defence Barristers are often contacted to represent and advise hackney carriage and private hire licence holders who have had their licences suspended, revoked or have been reported for an offence for a breach of one or more of these duties.
In this article therefore, I will look at the more common statutory duties placed in hackney carriage and private hire drivers, the sanctions and penalties attached to these and any rights of appeals.
Under section 65 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976:
“A district council may fix the rates or fares within the district as well for time as distance, and all other charges in connection with the hire of a vehicle or with the arrangements for the hire of a vehicle, to be paid in respect of the hire of hackney carriages by means of a table (hereafter in this section referred to as a “table of fares”) made or varied in accordance with the provisions of this section.”
Whilst the power to set fares is discretionary, most licensing authorities do. If you are licensed by a licensing authority that does regulate fares, there are a number of statutory rules that you must comply with. These duties are outlined in model byelaws set by the Department for Transport (DfT). They include:
- If your taxi is fitted with a taximeter, it must be on and used for all journeys (byelaw 5(b)).
- Where an agreement has been made in advance to pay a fare lower than that displayed on the taximeter, the licence holder will commit an offence if he demands a fare higher than the agreed amount (s. 54 Town Police Clauses Act 1847).
- There is no provision for a hackney carriage driver to charge (or agree a fare) higher than that shown on the taxi meter (s. 55 Town Police Clauses Act 1847) unless the journey starts in the licensing authority’s area, agreement of the higher fare is agreed in advance, and the journey ends outside the licensing authority’s area. (s. 66 Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976).
Vehicle proprietors or licensed driver can be prosecuted, fined, face civil claims and, in some cases, be imprisoned for offences of overcharging or not honouring agreements.
Taxi and private hire drivers are exempt from wearing seatbelts under the following circumstances (reg. 6 The Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) Regulations 1993):
- a licensed taxi while it is being used for seeking hire, or answering a call for hire, or carrying a passenger for hire, or
- a private hire vehicle while it is being used to carry a passenger for hire.
The exemption does not apply to passengers however who are required to wear seatbelts. Any person over the age of 14 must wear a seat belt to avoid committing a criminal offence.
Note however that, unlike adults, it is the responsibility of the vehicle proprietors or licensed driver to ensure children (anyone under the age of 14) wear the appropriate restraint for their age and length.
There is often uncertainty with regards to the rules when children do not have the correct restraint with them at the time they take a hackney carriage or private hire vehicle. Under regulation 10 of the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) Regulations 1993 provides an exemption for hackney carriage and private hire vehicles:
- a small child aged under 3 years who is riding in a licensed taxi or licensed hire car, if no appropriate seat belt is available for him in the front or rear of the vehicle;
- a small child aged 3 years or more who is riding in a licensed taxi, a licensed hire car or a small bus and wearing an adult belt if an appropriate seat belt is not available for him in the front or rear of the vehicle.
In addition to primary legislation and local licensing policies, licence holders often forget that local hackney carriage byelaws are also in place. These byelaws are made under section 68 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847.
Byelaws carry more significance than policy but is subordinate to primary legislation. The DfT has produced model hackney carriage byelaws for licensing authorities to adopt. These model byelaws cover a wide range of matters including driver conduct, responsibilities on the proprietor in relation to safety and comfort of passengers, correct use of taximeters and provisions relating to conduct when plying for hire and transporting passengers.
It is important, particularly for vehicle proprietors, to understand the duties placed on them by these byelaws. Failure to do so is a criminal offence and hackney carriage licence holders can, on summary conviction, be fined.
Duty to report matters
We very often get contacted by licence holders who have fallen foul of some duty to report a change of circumstances that was relevant to their licence. More often than not, licence holders will face enforcement action for this ranging from a formal written warning, a licence review of a prosecution. It is therefore important for licence holders to be clear in their understanding of the duties on them to report changes to their circumstances within the required timeframes. Whilst here I will focus on those prescribed in law, licence holders should also be aware that local licensing policies will set additional requirements and it is equally important that these are complied with.
- Transfer of hackney carriages and private hire vehicles – The proprietor of a licensed vehicle must notify their licensing authority in writing and within 14 days of a transfer of ownership. Failure to do so in an offence. (S.49 Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976)
- Convictions, cautions, arrests etc. – Most licensing authorities will have a requirement in place for licence holder to immediately notify them of any convictions, cautions, arrests, criminal investigations or driving points. This will be a local policy requirement.
- Change of name and/or contact details – Similarly, most licensing authorities will have a requirement for licence holder to formally notify them of a change of name or address. This too will be a local policy requirement.
- Complaints – It is also common for licensed private hire operators to have a requirement placed on them to notify a licensing authority of any complaints they have received in relation to licensed drivers employed by them or complaints made about the licensed operator.
The list above is not exhaustive and local licensing policy will vary around the country. It is important that hackney carriage and private hire licence holders read and understand local licensing policy in respect of duty to report change of circumstances. Ignorance is generally not a defence that can be relied on.
The Equality Act 2010 places a whole range of statutory duties on licence holders.
Under sections 168 and 170 of the 2010 Act, all hackney carriage and private hire licence holder have a duty to carry assistance dogs unless they have been issued with an exemption certificate.
In addition, many licensing authorities maintain lists of “designated” hackney carriages. Any such hackney carriage designated by virtue of section 167 of the 2010 Act, carry the following additional duties under section 165:
- to carry the passenger while in the wheelchair;
- not to make any additional charge for doing so;
- if the passenger chooses to sit in a passenger seat, to carry the wheelchair;
- to take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the passenger is carried in safety and reasonable comfort;
- to give the passenger such mobility assistance as is reasonably required.
Similar to the requirement to carry assistance dogs, failure to comply with the duties under section 165 constitutes a criminal offence.
CCTV in licensed vehicles
There is an increasing amount of both licence holders and licensing authorities that are insisting on CCTV in licensed hackney carriages and private hire vehicles. CCTV can warrant an entire article in itself however, I wanted to focus on a couple of important points with regards to the statutory duties placed on licence holders with regards to CCTV in their licensed vehicles.
- If a licence holder has taken a decision to install a CCTV system in their licensed vehicle(s), it is highly likely that the licence holder should register themselves with the Information Commissioner’s Officer (ICO) as a data controller.
- Where the requirement has been placed on licence holders by, for example, a licensing authority, the responsibility to register with the ICO falls with the licensing authority.
- The ICO has previously stated that CCTV systems that continuously record are likely to fall foul of data protection law and should be avoided.
Enforcement and sanctions
Whilst there is strictly speaking no statutory obligation on licensing authorities to enforce, clearly no licensing regime is worth any value without enforcement.
It is a mixed picture across the country with regards to enforcement. It is fair to say that with budget cuts and austerity, proactive enforcement is becoming increasingly rare.
Licence holders should however not become complacent however. As I mentioned in my introduction, Taxi Defence Barristers are often contacted by licence holders who have had their licences revoked or suspended for breaches their statutory duties.
Since a breach of these statutory carry a criminal conviction, the licensing consequences can be severe and whilst it may be arguable that a revocation does not necessarily follow, this in itself can be stressful and costly for licence holders.
Any licence holder who is facing difficulties with their hackney carriage or private hire licence can contact Taxi Defence Barristers for advice and representation.
Rights of appeal
The penalty for breaches of the various statutory duties discussed in this article is dealt with by way of criminal law. The significance of this is that hackney carriage and private hire licence holders convicted of any of the offences discussed in this article could additionally face losing their licence.
As is normally the case, with a decision by a licensing authority to refuse, revoke or suspend a hackney carriage of private hire licence, there is a right of appeal. As I mentioned at the start of this article, Taxi Defence Barristers are often contacted by licence holders who face legal difficulties with their licences following the conclusion of criminal proceedings against them.
 As amended by The Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) (Amendment) Regulations 2006
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