Whistleblower and drivers exploit systems to cut costs and save money as Uber drives down prices Uber drivers can charge
It has been claimed by the London taxi trade that when it comes to Uber the question of valid insurance has been a serious concerns. As the minicab cab company continues to rapidly expand the Uber service in the UK and around the world, there are genuine concerns that systems can be manipulated by drivers.
We already know how Uber drivers work together to switch off their phones to increase revenues by deliberately causing the app to go into its surge charging mode for passengers, so it comes as no shock that questions are now being raised questions about the robustness of its approval procedures for driver documents.
Whistleblowers and drivers have told the Guardian newspaper that the system is vulnerable to cheating by those looking to save money following reductions in Uber’s fares. The Guardian demonstrated that a driver was able to pick up a paying customer having provided fake insurance paperwork via its computerised system. Some drivers fear that breaches in the technology could put customers’ safety at risk.
Uber’s driver approval system encourages them to submit renewals of insurance, driving licences and MOT certificates through the internet to save time and costs of coming in to Ubers London “office”.
The Guardian worked with a whistleblower who wanted to test Uber’s system after hearing that other drivers may be trying to find loopholes to cut costs. Insurance premiums for new drivers in the UK can cost up to £4,000 a year.
He uploaded an entirely fabricated insurance policy under the logo of a made-up insurance company, “Freecover”, and Uber approved him to pick up customers.
“Photoshopping is what everyone is talking about,” said another Uber driver on condition of anonymity. “With the fares coming down you have to look at other ways of exploiting the system.”
The Guardian said ‘it was impossible to verify how widespread such attempts to cheat the system are’, and Uber said drivers attempting to use fake documents would be reported to the police.
Jo Bertram, the regional general manager for Uber in the UK, Ireland and Nordics, said the breach of its vetting procedure with the Freecover document was “a unique situation”. She strongly denied there was a wider problem with the company’s “very robust” document handling.
“It is absolutely not possible to cheat the system,” she said. “Public safety is our number one priority. We have no interest in allowing any driver who is not fully licensed and insured on the platform.”
But Uber admitted a member of its staff approved the fake Freecover document even though the insurer on the letterhead does not exist.
Despite admitting to the mistake by approving the Freecover insurance, Uber has de-activated the whistleblower from its system and reported him to TfL and the police.
The driver, who asked not to be named, said Uber appeared to be trying to “shoot the messenger” and said he was acting in the wider public interest. He stressed he had genuine insurance in place when he posted the fake document.
“We have demonstrated you can take a job on a fake document but I had genuine insurance,” he said. “It is absurd and uncalled for.”
Uber said its failure to spot the fake document was “a unique situation triggered by a deliberate attempt to try and cheat the system”. But it said it shouldn’t have happened and the company was taking the situation seriously.
“The Guardian has helped identify an important point and we are always looking to improve our document management processes,” said a spokesman. “We are going through our processes and evaluating them to make sure something like this can’t happen again. It [the fake document] was checked. It was a case of human error. The team involved has been spoken to to ensure our high level of practice has been maintained at all times.”
The company said it would reduce the number of insurance companies drivers can use in the UK, to help prevent fraud.
Uber said on Friday it had a “backstop” insurance policy that would cover customers if a driver had an accident without insurance. However, it said, this did not exempt drivers from having their own insurance policy which was required by law and the terms of their private hire licence.
“All trips are covered by commercial insurance,” said a spokesman. “Uber maintains coverage to ensure that this is the case.”
However, insurance fraud in the private hire industry is much more widespread than Uber. The problem is that unless you physically see the proposal form the insurance document can be worthless. I have seen examples of where drivers have lied to obtain insurance using fake addresses and not declaring points or convictions.
Regulators such as Transport for London (TfL) don’t even ask to see proof of insurance on the day the licence is issued which means once you have your licence or have successfully applied to an app such as Uber, you can then cancel your insurance the following day and take out normal social and domestic insurance.
Once the correct insurance is cancelled and replaced with worthless insurance the APNR network doesn’t distinguish between types of insurance, therefore allowing an minicab or private hire vehicle to appear to be insured when in reality when it’s not.
Uber and other operators should conduct regular insurance checks to ensure that the correct type of insurance is in place at all times. Also, on submitting insurance documents and policies it should be an automatic requirement to provide the proposal form that was used to grant the insurance.
But in the meantime as some in the industry continue in their determination rush to bottom by making prices unrealistic, therefore making incomes impossible to survive on drivers will continue to cut corners and costs.
TfL has now launched an investigation into Uber over the breach.