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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection): 14th March 2012

 

Report of the Director of Legal, Public Protection and Housing Services

 

Licensing Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle Drivers

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To provide information in response to a request from Councillor Bertin, to inform the Committee of the measures taken by the Council's Licensing Authority to ensure the security of hackney carriage and private hire vehicle drivers.

Recommendation

1.             THAT the report be noted. 

Reason for the Recommendation

1.             To inform the Committee of the measures taken by the Council's Licensing Authority to ensure the security of hackney carriage and private hire vehicle drivers

Background

2.             The requirement to hold a hackney carriage driver's licence is contained in the Town Police Clauses Act 1847.  Further provisions relating to the actual grant of a driver's licence are contained in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976.

3.             The Local Authorities Executive Arrangements (Functions and Responsibilities) (Wales ) Regulations 2007 allocate responsibility for licensing functions to the Council.  The Council has delegated responsibility for licensing functions to the Licensing Committee.  In respect of hackney carriage and private hire vehicle driver's licences, the Director of Legal, Public Protection and Housing has delegated authority to grant or refuse applications.  Whilst the  Director of Legal, Public Protection and Housing has duly authorised officers to grant or refuse such applications, it is the case that officers grant and suspend such licences but if there are prima facie grounds for refusing the licence, the application is determined by the Licensing Committee.  The Licensing Committee then has the opportunity to interview the applicant to determine his or her fitness and propriety to hold a hackney carriage and private hire vehicle driver's licence.  

4.             The first rule of natural justice is that any person who is going to be affected by the decision that is to be made has a right to be heard before the decision is made.  Applicants for hackney carriage and private hire vehicle drivers licences are provided with the opportunity to make oral representations to the Licensing Committee before a decision is made on their applications.    

5.             There are certain criteria which must be met before a person can be granted a hackney carriage and private hire vehicle driver's licence.  These are contained in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 which states that the applicant must be 'fit and proper' person to hold a driver's licence and must have held a DVLA driving licence for at least twelve months before the date of the application.   

Relevant Issues and Options

6.             The requirement for applicants to have held a DVLA driving licence for at least twelve months is straightforward and requires little interpretation.  However the requirement that no licence should be granted to someone unless they are a fit and proper person can cause officers and the licensing committee some concern. 

7.             In the Vale of Glamorgan there are currently three criteria for determining fitness and propriety.  Applicants are required to pass a combined English and knowledge test, to have a Criminal Records Bureau check at 3 yearly intervals and to have a valid Group 2 medical.

8.             Since March 2002 hackney carriage and private hire drivers have been included within the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975.  The consequence of this is that is that all convictions, irrespective of age, sentence imposed or offence committed, remain live for applicants.  This means they can all be taken into account when determining such applications. 

9.             The Department of Transport Best Practice Guide states that 'a criminal record check is an important safety measure and is widely required'.  Until 2011 all applicants were subject to enhanced CRB checks.  The Criminal Records Bureau informed councils in 2011 that it was ending the 10-year practice of checking drivers through the enhanced check and that standard checks would be undertaken.  Enhanced disclosures can include details of further information provided by the Police Notifiable Occupation Unit that would not appear on a standard checks.  Lobbying by the trade and the Local Government Association led to a Government announcement in January 2012 that councils will shortly be able to revert back to insisting on enhanced CRB checks when licensing drivers of hackney carriage and private hire vehicles. 

10.        In considering an individual's criminal record each case is decided on its merit.  However in order to provide guidance to applicants and consistency in decision making, in 2009 the Licensing Committee approved a Policy on Convictions, Cautions and Charges. This is provided for information at Appendix 1.

11.        From 5th January 2009 a condition has been imposed on all driver’s licences that the holder shall notify the Licensing Authority in writing, within seven days if convicted of any offence under the Road Traffic Acts or any regulations made under that Act, or is convicted of any offence or receives a caution, warning, fixed penalty notice or any other kind of penalty notice or is the subject of any pending criminal investigation.

12.        Where applicants originate from elsewhere in the EU and other overseas countries it may not be possible to obtain a Criminal Records Bureau check.  In such cases a Certificate of Good Conduct authenticated by the relevant Embassy is required before consideration will be given to the grant of a driver's licence.   

13.        In order to obtain a Criminal Records Bureau check applicants are required to complete an application.  Licensing officers are counter-signatories to the application and are responsible for establishing the true identity of applicants including their name, date of birth and address.  There is a prescriptive list of documents which applicants can choose from to prove their identity.  Where applicants are not able to provide the necessary proof of their name, date of birth or address, or officers are not satisfied as to the documentation provided they are not permitted to countersign the CRB application form.  Criminal records information therefore cannot be sought in respect of such applicants. 

14.        In establishing the true identity of applicants officers have to be continually vigilant to the risk of applicants providing fraudulent documents in an attempt to obtain a drivers licence.  From first point of contact with the licensing service applicants are required to provide photographic identification which must be verified by officers.   Photographic identification is also required when applicants sit the knowledge and English test and a copy of that identification is placed on the test paper thus ensuring that the person who attends to sit the test is in fact the applicant.  Group 2 medicals are also required and must be completed by the applicant's own GP.

15.        In 2009 Licensing staff attended training on extremism and radicalisation and in January 2011 on terrorism awareness  provided by South Wales Police which reinforced the requirement for continued vigilance.

16.        The Committee will be aware that a recent high profile terrorism case has been widely publicised in the national press. One of those imprisoned had fraudulently obtained a Vale of Glamorgan drivers' licence in 2009 by assuming his brother's identity.  On attempting to renew the licence in 2010 officers were not satisfied as to the applicant's photographic identification and alerted South Wales Police.  This led to his arrest and subsequent conviction for fraud.  This case provides evidence that the anti terrorism training delivered by the Police has provided officers with increased confidence to challenge applicants and for the need to be continually vigilant. 

17.        Officers are aware of one further fraudulent application in 2002 where an applicant assumed the identity of his brother to obtain a licence.  Officers subsequently acted on intelligence information to secure the arrest of the driver and he was subsequently convicted of fraud.     

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment and Climate Change, if appropriate)

18.        There are no financial implications arising from this report.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

19.        Legal implications are contained within the body of this report.

Crime and Disorder Implications

20.        None directly arising from this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

21.        There are no equal opportunities implications arising directly from this report.

Corporate/Service Objectives

22.        The licensing of hackney carriage and private hire vehicle drivers contributes to the Corporate Objective of Community Well Being - to make the Vale a safe and healthy place in which individuals, children and families can live their lives to the full.  It also contributes to the following service objective:-

Policy Framework and Budget

23.        This report is to inform the Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection).

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

24.        There has been no individual Ward Member consultation in respect of this report as it is an issue that affects all areas of the Vale of Glamorgan.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

25.        Housing and Public Protection

Background Papers

None.

 

Contact Officer

Kate Thompson, Principal Regulatory Services Officer 01446 709356

 

Officers Consulted

Councillor John Thomas, Chair Licensing Committee

Richard Price, Lawyer

Rob Ingram, Principal Accountant

Alun Billinghurst, Head of Public Protection

 

Responsible Officer:

P H Evans, Director of Legal, Public Protection and Housing Services

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