Handing out contract to chauffeurs without the correct checks could lead to more than embarrassment
We live in a world where there is no escape from the “Elf and Safety” brigade, yet when it comes to handing out a multi-million pound chauffeur contract a high proportion of businesses fail to carry out the proper checks to ensure they only use licensed companies, drivers and vehicles. To be fair it is understandable that an employee in a procurement department might not be fully aware of the laws in relation to private hire and taxis in the UK.
For the past nine months I have been on a licensing crash course. I have to admit the laws used to licence private hire vehicles, taxis and drivers are a very complicated and complex set of rules, which rely heavily on the 374 councils across the UK having the correct interpretation of the law. Due to each council having their own ‘view’ on the law, implementing it results in the real possibility of 374 different rules and regulations.
Added to the problem is the public and businesses perception that if a service is being offered it must be legal. This is a very misguided approach. With councils looking at having their budgets slashed and that fact the law states councils cannot add enforcement costs onto private hire and taxi licences the industry relies on councils taking enforcement action against unlicensed companies and individuals breaking the law knowing that any legal costs will have to come out of other departmental budgets.
With the complexity of the law and the fact some within the industry feel licensing officials find it easier and cheaper to look the other way how can we expect businesses to know the law? The UK private hire associations tell me they never get asked for advice in relation to the law from businesses. The licensed trade tell me that businesses don’t ask the right questions and only ever seem to want to see a copy of the company or vehicles insurance.
So what can be done to ensure that businesses comply with their duty of care?
Considering the fact that a company who chooses to break the law tends to have a reason for doing so highlights the need to only use fully licensed chauffeur companies. In certain parts of the UK, chauffeurs, private hire and taxis who operate outside the law can be involved in criminal activities, some of which have a direct serious safety issue for the people travelling in their cars.
The drivers of unlicensed chauffeur companies won’t have had a class two medical or for that fact any medical at all. The same will apply for the compulsory criminal background checks all private hire and taxi drivers have, which again won’t apply to an unlicensed driver because he or she won’t be forced to have one. This could allow criminals or people with serious criminal offences on their records to be driving around members of the public.
The vehicles which are being used won’t be independently checked and if less than three years old will operate off the three year manufacturers MOT exemption even though these vehicles can be doing between 52,000 to 100,000+ miles a year. Would you like to be driven in a car with the potential of up to 300,000 miles on the clock without ever having an MOT? I certainty wouldn’t. There are many reasons why chauffeur companies avoid the independent checks and up to three council MOT’s a year and I am sure we will be covering this at a later date.
So, we have unchecked vehicles and drivers and the potential of criminal activities taking place behind the scenes which could all come back to bite a respectable company on the arse if they give a contract to an unlicensed chauffeur firm. If the company providing the services is found to be a front for serious organised crime – which may sound a little OTT, but our investigations so far show this can be a reality and not a scare tactic – this would mean a respectable company has sponsored organised crime which would have serious implications to their reputation.
Finally, you have to consider the insurance implications. The law is there to protect the innocent in the UK if you are hit by an uninsured driver, but at the same time it has helped cause issues within the private hire industry. Because everybody is either covered by the insurance fund or ‘the last insured’ all third parties are insured whether there is an insurance policy in place.
It is because of this law that the police and officials take the view that an unlicensed chauffeur involved in an accident will always result in a paid claim for its passengers. On the other hand the trade associations disagree. The National Limousine Chauffeur Association (NLCA), Bill Bowling and The National Private Hire Association (NPHA), Brian Roland both state that it will take a death before a test case is put before a UK court.
Most, but not all UK insurers, have terms and conditions stating that if the driver, vehicle and operator don’t hold the relevant licenses as required by law then they are deemed to NOT be insured. Also, material non-disclosure is important as more and more licensing authorities who ask for insurance proposal forms are finding after carrying out extensive checks that individuals or operators have lied to obtain the insurance. In the event of a tragedy the unlicensed firm will collapse which would mean that the company who hired the service could be liable for any litigation. If a company offers a chauffeur service to their clients and it is found not to be licensed as required by law and they have failed to carry out the correct due-diligence, even if they have a waver claiming they are not responsible again liability most likely will rest with them.
The only way perceptions and attitudes will change is if companies are educated into changing their approach to hiring chauffeurs in the UK. I cannot believe the industry and their trade associations say it will take a serious assault, rape or death or an organised crime ring to be exposed before companies start asking the right questions. I can say that when and not if this happens it will be to late for some respectable corporations.
- When requesting an insurance certificate for vehicles or public liability ask to see the original proposal form to ensure the company/driver has provided correct information when applying for the insurance and has not fraudulently applied for it.
- Ask to see copies of the companies private hire operators licence and confirm the details are correct with the relevant authority.
- Ask to see copies of all drivers and vehicles private hire licences.
- Talk to the council issuing the licences to check the companies/vehicles/drivers history.
- Ask councils for their licence terms and conditions for executive and chauffeur vehicles to enable you to know the rules the chauffeur service you are considering to give a contract to have to abide by.
- Audit the chauffeur company to ensure the vehicles are being maintained and serviced correctly. Also check the hours drivers are being expected to work. A tired driver is a dangerous driver.
- Carry out random checks when vehicles and drivers are collecting employees. Ask to see the drivers private hire badge as it is highly unlikely it will be displayed due to exemptions for executive and chauffeur companies.
- Check to see if the vehicle is displaying a council vehicle private hire licence disc.
- Keep records of when licenses are due to expire and request copies of the renewed licenses.
- If a company claims its exempt for being licensed check with the local council and the UK’s trade associations and consider the dangers and risks of hiring an unlicensed chauffeur.
Remember the responsibility is on businesses to only use fully legal and licensed companies. The fact a service is being provided, no matter how big the chauffeur company is does not mean it is licensed in the UK to provide chauffeur transportation and by using these illegal operators, vehicles and drivers you not only risk the lives of your employees and visitors but could be supporting organised crime.