Application for a Hackney Carriage vehicles properties licence
Report of the Case Officer
The Senior Licensing Officer introduced the three items, as set out in his agenda reports, after agreement from Members that they be considered together as one item. He explained that three drivers are seeking clarification as to how the Council will treat their lapsed applications, prior to them purchasing a new vehicle and/or making a new application. These cases are complicated for three reasons:
- the impact of the pandemic;
- the Council’s planned introduction of a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) policy from 31st December 2021;
- the subsequent change to that policy in September 2021.
The Sub-Committee is being asked if it will give delegated authority to officers to grant permission for the new vehicle licences when made, and either treat them effectively as late renewals with new vehicles, or not recognise continuity rights and refuse to grant new licences, which would mean the applicants would have to submit brand new applications and would have to own a WAV.
Officers consider it reasonable for drivers to have surmised that the WAV policy may have changed in view of the pandemic/lockdown; anyone approaching the licensing team was advised that the policy was as stated at the time, and that they would be informed of any change as soon as possible – the Council was as clear as it could be under the circumstances. However, some proprietors argue that the pandemic and the uncertainty made it difficult for them to make decisions regarding the purchase of new vehicles, and the question is whether this is sufficient reason to depart from council policy and allow continuity rights to these applicants.
The Senior Licensing Officer confirmed that, as always, each case must be decided on its own merits and that this is a temporary situation, with the Council due to consult on its new vehicle policy in the near future.
The case specifics of the three lapsed licences are as follows:
HCV 116, expired 08.02.2021, due to failed MOT; the driver decided not to renew at the time.
HCV 141, expired 20.06.2020 – the council had a lot of contact with this license-holder regarding council policy and continuity rights, the driver asking for mitigations as set out in the report to be taken into account.
HCV 118, expired 30.07.2021 – correspondence from this driver can be viewed in the report.
In response to member questions, the Senior Licensing Officer confirmed that:
- the cost to the driver of replacing a licence each year is the application fee of £232, plus a high-spec MOT and fitness test at a council-approved garage, plus insurance, which is more costly for Hackney Carriage vehicles. In addition, when a vehicle reaches eight years of age, it requires a six-monthly MOT:
- a licence is usually granted for one year, but any non-WAV vehicles due for renewal after 1st January 2021 would only have been licensed until 31st December 2021, when the new policy was due to be introduced. The Council would still have charged the full fee but would have given a pro-rata refund after the expiry date. Following the Council’s change of policy in September, any non-WAV vehicle was given a licence for a full year;
- if continuity rights were granted, any future licence should be granted immediately subsequent to the prior expiry, to avoid any impression that drivers benefited without having a licence in the interim period;
- a new WAV would be licensed up to the age of 10 years if modified post-manufacture (as most vehicles are), 14 years if off the production line as a WAV.
Members raised the following issues:
- regarding the costs of licensing a vehicle, MOT and insurance costs are fixed items, so only the cost of the actual application is an additional burden for the drivers;
- as the decision made tonight could open the floodgates, it seems reasonable to bring all retrospective applications into line in order for continuity rights to be maintained – the vehicle with the oldest situation should renew to June 2021, then from June onwards;
- due regard must be given to human rights – a licence plate has monetary value, and drivers should not be deprived of this – and also consideration of equalities, eliminating discrimination against persons with protected characteristics. Ideally, more WAVs are required/desirable, but this must be balanced against the transitional period for this new policy and the Human Rights Act;
- due regard should also be given to the Council’s aim of improving air quality by reducing CO2 emissions and pollution – although this is not specified in the vehicles policy; Euro 6 or above engine standards for vehicles are encouraged;
- whilst acknowledging the above, due consideration should also be given to the level of engagement drivers had with the Council over the past 12-18 months. Individual circumstances need to be taken into account, such as whether a vehicle was still roadworthy when the licence lapsed, whether a driver could have replaced it with a WAV and kept working, whether the licence related to a vehicle with several years left to run or whether it needed to be replaced, at the time with a WAV, and how or whether continuity rights should be granted in these circumstances;
- the council must establish a reasonable and rational policy, giving officers a clear steer, and enabling them to make the correct decisions under delegated powers in each case;
- the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic, lockdown and subsequent lack of work, together with uncertainty about the Council’s changes in policy must be taken into account;
- it would seem reasonable, on legal advice, that to have continuity of rights there must be continuity of payment;
- a cut-off date is required – maybe from the date of the first lockdown? - to avoid a rush of people who have not previously engaged with the Council in any meaningful way coming forward now – the three applications under consideration may be test cases, with other drivers waiting on the outcome before approaching the Council;
- can officers say how many licences have lapsed from the beginning of the first lockdown?
In response to issues raised by Members in debate, the Senior Licensing Officer agreed that:
- it would seem a reasonable approach, if Members are minded to agree to continuity rights, that the vehicle with the oldest situation would renew to June 2021, then from June onwards;
- any decision is going to upset someone, but there is monetary value to plates, and if Members are minded to grant continuity, the plates will retain value, which is important going forward; if an individual’s licence is renewed and Council policy changes, a saloon (non-WAV) vehicle will be given longer to remain as a taxi – there is a financial element to this;
- although there are no figures for the number of lapsed licences since the beginning of the first lockdown, it is reasonable to say that anyone who has had no contact with the Council since their licence expired cannot come to the table now;
- although not clear how many licences have lapsed since the first lockdown, in
addition to the three agenda items under consideration, the licensing team has also received three other late renewal requests, plus two more complex requests – one where the driver wants to replace a licensed WAV with a saloon vehicle, and one from a driver who replaced a saloon with a WAV in May 2021, on the basis on the vehicles policy at the time, now wants to return to a saloon vehicle. – so eight decisions to make in total.
In further debate, Members felt that losing WAVs is not acceptable for equality reasons, but that given the circumstances of the pandemic and change in policy, they were in favour of granting continuity rights under delegated powers in the other six cases, subject to continuity of payment. Any driver who has not already contacted the licensing department (by close of play of the day of the meeting), will not be given special consideration – there is no need for a specific cut-off date.
The Chairman proposed taking the vote on Items 5, 6 and 7 together en bloc. Members were in agreement.
Vote on whether delegated authority should be given to officers to consider any applications arising from Items 5, 6 and 7 as late renewals under the terms discussed at the meeting
5 in support - unanimous