In July 2020 the Department for Transport published new guidance for statutory taxi and private hire vehicles licensing authorities. This followed a consultation in April 2019 to gather views on the recommendations and draft statutory guidance. Recommendations included that licensees undergo enhanced DBS and barring list checks and minimum exclusion periods by offence category and our response focused on those exclusions.
Passengers getting into a taxi or PHV are placing themselves in the hands of the driver and it’s right that licensing decisions take into account all relevant information. The problem is, the draft guidance didn’t advise taking into account all relevant information. Instead, it proposed a blanket approach based on broad offence categories. The guidance was based on the Institute of Licensing’s 2018 recommendations which emphasised the need to consider individual circumstances but then went on to propose blanket exclusions based on broad offence categories, along with lengthy exclusion periods.
Unfortunately, the final version of the guidance includes the same offence categories and exclusion periods recommended in 2018. The long exclusion periods are not scaled to the circumstances or gravity of an offence – a person convicted of possession of a firearm will be refused a licence for seven years, the same as a person who over-claimed benefits. An applicant with a conviction for common assault where the victim sustained no injuries would be treated the same as a serious assault in which a victim required surgery and refused a licence for at least 10 years.
Department for Transport has published a summary of responses to the consultation and acknowledged that
The proportionality of some of the baseline exclusion periods was questioned by some respondents, as was the range of offences that would fall under a particular heading.
However, they went on to say that:
The final version provides additional clarity and reinforces that the decision as to whether a person who has convictions should be licensed is and will remain dependent on the individual circumstance of each case.
Licensing authorities are not bound by the guidance but it would be a brave authority that would strike out on its own. Indeed, the president of the Institute of Licensing, James Button, is keen for the guidance to become law. In a comment to the Daily Mirror, he said:
In most authorities, when someone has previous convictions which fall outside that council’s policy, the decision is made by councillors. They can be swayed by sob stories. It has always surprised me why there is acceptance of a level of criminality among a significant minority of the taxi trade.
We can’t be sure what Mr Button would consider ‘a sob story’ but the proposed exclusions would mean a woman with childhood convictions for soliciting, as a result of child sexual exploitation would be treated the same as a man with a recent conviction for rape, and prevented from ever obtaining a licence. That same woman, if she had convictions for possession of a weapon or affray, would be refused a licence for a minimum of 7 to 10 years after the conviction, regardless of the circumstances. One such woman, Sammy Woodhouse, bravely waived her right to anonymity and spoke out on behalf of others still having to disclose criminal records acquired as a result of their abuse. Ironically, the guidance also recommends that drivers are trained in safeguarding and spotting signs of criminal or sexual exploitation.
In principle, a national framework can help with consistency – and let applicants know what to expect. We support clear guidelines to assist licensing authorities. This guidance, if taken up by local authorities, means law abiding people with convictions are likely to be unnecessarily excluded from the trade for years, or indefinitely. That has a ripple effect, reinforcing the idea that everyone with a conviction is a danger to the public. Thankfully this is not true – there 11 million people in the UK with a criminal record – about 1 in 6 of the population. Most want to move on positively with their lives, and they deserve a fair chance to do that.
Written by Rachel Tynan, Policy and practice lead at Unlock