Taxi and private hire drivers could have to pass enhanced criminal record checks before being granted a licence under Government plans to protect vulnerable passengers.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a consultation on new licensing guidelines for councils.
Current guidelines allow councils to set their own driver standards, including whether to make background checks. Councils are ‘encouraged’ to check criminal records and take a ‘strong stance’ on offences, such as sexual assault or rape.
According to the DfT, in 2017 85% of local authorities in England required potential taxi or private hire drivers to undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check for a criminal record and to check if they are on any list prohibiting them from working with children or vulnerable adults. 15% of councils required a criminal record check, nut no check on if they could work with vulnerable people. Just 4% required CCTV to be fitted in vehicles.
The proposed measures will mean every council in England would have to ensure drivers have an enhanced criminal record and background check before they can operate.
The consultation will run until April 22. Government plans also include introducing national minimum standards for drivers, establishing a national licensing database to prevent applicants applying to different councils after being refused in the first instance elsewhere, and looking at restricting drivers from operating hundreds of miles away from where they are licensed.
Nusrat Ghani, taxis minister, said: “While the vast majority of drivers are safe and act responsibly, we have seen too many cases where taxi and minicab drivers have used their job to prey on vulnerable people, women and children.
“These rules would make sure that drivers are fit to carry passengers, keeping people safe while stopping those with bad intentions from getting behind the wheel of a taxi or minicab.”
DfT is also considering whether taxis and private hire vehicles should be fitted with CCTV. Cameras would be fitted with an encrypted system so that footage could only be accessed if a crime is reported.
In Scotland, private hire vehicles can already only pick up fares within the local authority area that has granted them their taxi-operating licence.
The power to regulate taxi drivers is devolved to the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Irish Assembly. Therefore, the proposed guidelines would only apply to England, but would also be applied in Wales until the devolved Welsh Government sets its own statutory guidelines.
In Northern Ireland, applicants must already provide an enhanced criminal record check. The decision to grant or refuse a licence to those with previous convictions is made following rehabilitation legislation as a guide.
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion has long raised concerns over loopholes in licensing after evidence emerged of taxis being used to transport children for sexual exploitation in the South Yorkshire town. Champion welcomed the introduction of national standards, saying, “I hope that the Government will look at the example of Rotherham in drawing up new minimum standards.”
“Catastrophic mistakes were made in Rotherham, but the council has learned from them and licensing conditions are now amongst the most stringent in the country. This should be taken as a baseline. If national standards aren’t robust, we risk a race to the bottom.”
In June last year a judge granted minicab app Uber a short-term operating licence in London after its permit was initially not renewed over safety concerns. John Worboys became known as the “black cab rapist” after attacking women in his hackney carriage. He was jailed indefinitely in 2009 after being convicted of 19 offences relating to 12 victims.