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Concerns about Child Sexual Exploitation allegations involving taxi and private hire vehicles
Calls are being made for the Government to review taxi licensing regulations. Among other reasons, this can be attributed to a number of national reports of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) against licensed and unlicensed taxi firms.
The vast majority of taxi drivers are providing a safe and positive service for passengers and in many instances actually go above and beyond to assist them and ensure their safety. Unfortunately, several serious allegations have been made against a number of drivers in recent years involving CSE/safeguarding issues, which the police have investigated. This has resulted in a number of individual licenses being removed.
Drivers are often transporting vulnerable individuals and frequent establishments where looked after children reside. The safeguarding of those individuals should be paramount. It is not uncommon for passengers to develop a long-term relationship with particular drivers, where they rely on a certain driver and use them frequently for regular journeys. Existing guidelines also allow councils to set their own standards, including whether to make checks. Significantly, there is nothing to prevent applicants applying to differing local authorities after being refused elsewhere.
Where are we now?
It is understood that the Department for Transport has announced plans for an enhanced criminal record check for drivers. This is welcomed, but while a positive move in the right direction, it needs to be complemented by other methods to strengthen existing regulations.
It is widely held that as CSE and abuse is insidious in its nature it cannot be fully eradicated. However, possible ways of reducing the threat include the following:
- Greater Government oversight
- A national database of drivers supported and/or funded by the Government
- A limit to the number of local authority licenses awarded simultaneously
- Tougher legislative policies and guidance for drivers – agreed and followed by all local authority areas
- The option for local authorities to attach strict conditions to an individual driver’s licence
- A “spot check” of drivers’ information (including a further check of convictions), post-issue of the licence
- Greater information sharing between local authorities and the police on individual drivers and taxi firms – to include intelligence information (where possible)
- Strengthening of individual taxi firms’ safeguarding systems/policiesCSE awareness training for drivers and all staff employed by taxi firms - including practical assistance and reporting guidance
- Improved accountability by drivers, coupled with reporting of taxi firms and fines for non-compliance
- A number of councils already require CCTV to be installed into taxis. There is impetus for compulsory CCTV recording in all licensed cabs (bearing in mind the cost and implications on passenger privacy). Automatic voice activated CTV ecording, coupled with password access could offer a potential solution. This CCTV footage could potentially be accessed by an independent third party, rather than individual drivers.
- Female drivers allocated to passengers displaying specific vulnerabilities on a case-by-case basis
- Different drivers allocated to regular passengers, minimising the potential risks of forming long-term relationships
Of course this will have no direct effect on the numerous unlicensed drivers operating illegally across the country but hopefully tougher regulations will encourage licensed drivers and the public to spot and report offenders to the local authority and the police for action to be taken.
For advice or support please contact Sarah Swan, Legal Director.