Councils have called for an urgent change in taxi licensing laws to address a ‘loophole’ that allows people to drive members of the public in minibuses without having a criminal record check.
Drivers of public carriage vehicles (PCVs) – those seating between nine and sixteen passengers – are licensed by the DVLA but are not subject to a criminal record check.
The Local Government Association claimed this was a safeguarding flaw that was “putting the public at an increased risk of harm, including those who may be more vulnerable after a night out”.
The LGA contrasted the position with the licensing regime for hackney carriages and private hire vehicles where drivers are required to produce an up-to-date enhanced criminal record check.
“The loophole means that drivers refused a taxi or minicab licence, or whose licence has been revoked by councils, are obtaining a PCV licence and then continuing to operate in the same area – sometimes working for the same company,” the Association said.
“The drivers are effectively operating as licensed drivers by transporting members of the public around in larger vehicles, despite not having had the same checks or being deemed not ‘fit and proper’ to do so by the council.”
The LGA called on the Government to amend the law to ensure that 9-16 seater vehicles are licensed by councils in line with the requirements for taxis and minicabs.
This would implement a recommendation made by the Law Commission in its 2014 report into taxi licensing. However, the Government has not yet responded to the report or introduced a taxi reform Bill.
The LGA highlighted examples of drivers who had continued to drive members of the public despite councils determining that they posed a risk to passengers.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “The majority of PCV drivers will be people who the public can trust, but this loophole provides an opportunity for unscrupulous drivers to continue to work in close proximity to passengers, even when a council has determined that they are not safe to do so.
“Anyone who books or flags down a standard taxi has the reassurance that all drivers are vetted and licensed by councils. The same safeguarding checks should apply to anyone driving a nine to 16-seat minibus.”
Cllr Blackburn added: “Larger minibuses are often sent in place of a regular taxi to pick up individuals or small parties, purely because they are nearest to the pick-up point rather than because there is a requirement for such a large vehicle. They are used to take groups of children to school, or to drive groups home after nights out.
“It is therefore extremely worrying that councils’ proactive work to protect taxi passengers from harm – and particularly those who may be most vulnerable - is being undermined by this loophole. We are urging the Government to act quickly to address this and bring PCVs into line with other local taxi licensing requirements.
“Two-and-a-half years after the Law Commission’s report into taxi licensing, this issue shows why it is vital that the Government introduces a Taxi Reform Bill to address this and the many other anomalies hindering our taxi licensing system.”