An educated consumer is a savvy consumer. Helping consumers navigate the legal minefield that regulates taxis, private hire, minicabs and chauffeur services

 

Consumers can endanger their families and themselves by using unlicensed private hire, minicabs and chauffeurs services. There is a dangerous misconception that if a service is being provided it must be legal. To understand the problems within the industry, you must first appreciate that the passenger transport industry is one of the worst regulated industries in the UK.

LicensedTransportUncovered.com (LTU), have found that consumers repeatedly put themselves at risk because of lack of knowledge of the law – the subsequent consequences can be catastrophic. One prime example is the “kiddie chauffeur service”, a case LTU has highlighted before, but it shows how consumers can be too trustful when using these types of services.

The case involved a lady who provided transportation services to children as young as 3-6 months old. The “kiddie chauffeur service”, was provided using a medium sized people carrier and offered parents a door to door service for their children when going to nursery, playgroups, primary schools or after school clubs.

LTU came across this service whilst returning from a meeting and took a photograph of the vehicle and the advertising which was on the rear window. The driver approached one of our investigators and asked why photographs were being taken. The lady appeared genuine and the conversation was conducted in a professional manner.

It transpired during the conversation that the service being provided to parents and their children wasn’t licensed as a private hire, minicab or chauffeur service. Furthermore, the vehicle was insured on standard social domestic and pleasure insurance, with no coverage for business or commercial use. Then came the bombshell. The lady providing the service and driving vulnerable children hadn’t even had a criminal records check.

Not only was the service highly illegal, but the service being provided failed to meet legal requirements on adults looking after children. The lady was reported to the authorities and she also contacted them directly to seek emergency advice. Once she realised the costs involved, especially the £3,000 insurance she decided to cease trading with immediate affect.

We are willing to put this down to a genuine mistake, but it just goes to show how parents or consumers can put trust in a service without actually carrying out any due diligence. Children are after all our most precious pride and joy, and luckily in this case the lady had no sinister ulterior motives for not being licensed.

Another case involved a high ranking procurement manager who told LTU that her mother, friends and family used a local taxi driver to take them to the airport on holidays. It transpired that the “taxi” was in fact a private hire minicab and the driver worked for a legitimate private hire operator. However, on his days off or prior to his shift starting he would do foreigners’ for his own private customers.

This driver didn’t have a private hire operators licence and the jobs were not booked through a licensed operators. If the driver was working or unable to meet a flight he would then ask another licensed private hire driver to pick them up on his behalf. The problem with this case is that it is a requirement of law that ALL bookings are made through a licensed operator, because failing to do so invalidates the vehicles’ insurance.

Once this was pointed out the family stopped using this driver and booked through an operator. This is not a unique case and it wouldn’t surprise anyone within the trade that this sort of arrangement happens on a regular basis across the UK.

The misconception that a service being provided must be legal has to change. Take the recent conversation we had with a fully licensed operator who provides novelty vehicles. LTU were told that they had received a substantial amount of last minute bookings for prom nights, which was a result of a high-profile media campaign by the police that they would be targeting unlicensed vehicles and drivers. The last minute bookings were a result of illegal firms cancelling bookings to avoid being stopped and prosecuted.

Consumers should be wary of limousine and novelty vehicles being made available for hire, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate operators in the UK. The National Limousine and Chauffeur Association (NLCA), only accepts members following a full vetting process which includes checks on licensing and insurance. Consumers should conduct their own due diligence to ensure they are only supporting the legal trade and not endangering their lives.

Finally, another UK-wide problem caused mainly by a lack of regulation – touting. This is where either a licensed private hire minicab waits outside venues to tout for business without being pre-booked through an operator. Not only is there the issue of insurance being invalidated, but there will be no record of any booking by that driver.

 

Education, campaigns and investigations

It is clear there is a lot to do on behalf of the trade to raise awareness to the wider public of the dangers they face by using unlicensed operators, vehicles and drivers.

Sexual assaults and rapes in licensed minicabs are on the increase and cannot be put down solely to touting, but there is a significant greater risk of being attacked if you use a tout. Freedom of Information data obtained by The Sun newspaper revealed 32 assault claims were made against employees of the ride-hailing app Uber in London over the past twelve months*, equal to one every eleven days. The figure represents more than a fifth of all claims against London taxi and car-hire drivers filed to 14 UK police forces last year, which totalled at 154 allegations including attacks in minicabs and chauffeur vehicles.

You also have the problem that not all attacks are reported and statistics don’t include vehicles and drivers that are actually not licensed. LTU have witnessed for ourselves young people approaching various private unlicensed vehicles after a night out to see who is offering the cheapest ride home – licensed or unlicensed.

LTU, is determined to change consumer attitudes and we hope to achieve this by conducting public interest investigations, exposing these findings through campaigns and education. We have already launched our car clocking campaign in the national press and media, supported by the trade and industry press. Currently we are investigating a number of cases we believe highlight how even licensed vehicles can be potential deathtraps and pose serious risk to both the public and other road users.

 

FIVE RULES

  • Always use Licensed Transport and avoid mobile phone number only operators
  • Always book through an operator, never directly with the driver
  • Pre-book your transport
  • Check vehicle and driver Identification is displayed
  • Never use touts or accept a ride off a member of the public you don’t know

 

Government lobbying is also an important part of our strategy to improve both regulation and to strengthen the law that taxis, private hire, minicabs and chauffeurs should abide by. Sadly, for decades successive governments have failed to act on genuine concerns raised by the trade and their associations, but LTU are confident that high-profile investigations we expose, specifically showing catastrophic failings by local councils, TfL or the police will confirm not only the flaws in the law, but confirm the serious problems with regulation and enforcing the law.

We welcome contact from consumers who would like further information on ensuring they only book fully licensed taxis, private hire, minicabs or chauffeur services. If you have any further questions you can also access our Q&A section by submitting your own query or searching for previous questions and answers.

 

*Updated May 2016