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14 February 2019

Ride-hailing and taxi drivers could face tougher criminal checks in England

First published14/02/2019

Drivers who ply their trade on apps such as Uber could be under greater scrutiny as part of proposals being put forward by the UK government.

The potential risk to passengers from the explosion of ride-hailing apps, as private-hire drivers are perceived to receive less thorough vetting – for example, to flag up past convictions – has long been argued.

Incidents such as the murders of passengers by a Didi driver in China heightened such concerns - although critics point out that a US Uber driver who admitted to killings had no previous criminal record, so would not have been identified by background checks.

In the UK, the case of a licensed ‘black cab’ driver convicted of drugging and raping multiple women – but who was then recommended for parole – has caused an outcry.

The UK government consultation, which runs until 8 April, is asking whether drivers should undergo an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check if they are applying for, or renewing, licences.

This means ride-hailing and taxi firms operating in England may soon be subject to more detailed criminal checks by councils - yet while the government acknowledges that “some of the recommendations proposed in the guidance would impose additional burdens on the trade”, the proposals will not be legally binding.

The government says it does not have legislative authority to impose national standards.

“In recent years the taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) industry has been subject of intense scrutiny as a result of failings in taxi and PHV licensing,” says Nusrat Ghani, parliamentary undersecretary of state for transport.

“Some authorities failed to ensure that individuals were 'fit and proper' to be issued a taxi or PHV licence and failed to take action when concerns were raised about the involvement of licensees in the abuse and exploitation of some of the most vulnerable in our society.”
In the UK, ride-hailing drivers currently require a private hire licence from a local council.

Among the other questions in the consultation is whether drivers and operators should be required to notify the issuing authority within 48 hours upon arrest and release, charge or conviction of any motoring offence or any offence involving dishonesty, indecency or violence.

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