COVID-19 - advice for licensed drivers
Last updated: 27 March 2020 at 10.30am
Please see the following for information on the current situation regarding the continued working of taxis and private hire vehicles from the Department for Transport (DfT):
Taxis and private hire vehicles can continue to work. But the advice is absolutely clear - people should stay at home if possible. That is the way to save lives and protect our NHS. The public should avoid travel unless absolutely essential. The only reasons to leave our houses are set out in the government guidance.
Clearly if absolutely necessary to travel by taxi or private hire vehicle, best efforts should be used to follow the guidance as far as is practically possible, including washing your hands regularly and as soon as you get home.
We all have concerns regarding the possible implications of the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19). The best protection is good hygiene and cleaning.
HM Government and NHS public information provides useful advice on how to slow the spread of the virus. This is the same advice to slow the spread of other germs including flu and general coughs and colds. The advice is to:
- Always carry tissues and use them to catch coughs and sneezes.
- Dispose of used tissues in the bin as soon as possible.
- Wash hands with soap and water, or use sanitiser gel, to kill germs. This is particularly important before eating or smoking/vaping.
All drivers and operators must take sensible and routine precautionary measures such as cleaning surfaces regularly with sanitising wipes or spray to get rid of germs. A clean vehicle is a healthy vehicle! This includes regularly cleansing of:
All customer contact points such as door handles (inside and out), window switches, grab handles, seat facings and card payment devices (do not spray keypads with any fluids).
Drivers sharing vehicles should clean the steering wheel, door handles, control stalks, gear knob, handbrake and instruments regularly and when their shift ends.
Public Health England is the lead agency and is providing regularly updated information for the public on the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) including the current situation in the UK and information about the virus and its symptoms.
If you are worried about the Coronavirus (COVID-19), have a cough, temperature or shortness of breath and have been in physical contact with someone from an affected area then the NHS advises you to stay indoors and avoid contact with other people as you would with the flu and contact NHS 111 online: https://111.nhs.uk/
If you are experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19, such as a cough, temperature or shortness of breath you must not work and should follow the governments advice regarding self-isolating.
We would expect all private hire operators to fully cooperate with any enquiries they may receive from Public Health England or any other relevant agencies.
Below are questions you may have and other licensing updates:
- Can Hackney carriage and private hire drivers refuse to carry certain passengers in fear of infection?
There are differences between how hackney carriage and private hire services work. This section relates to duties on drivers and operators in relation to accepting journey requests.
Hackney carriage drivers who are standing for hire (at a rank or elsewhere on the highway) can only refuse a hiring for a journey within the district if they have a reasonable excuse (section 53 Town Police Clauses Act 1847). It is a reasonable excuse to refuse to carry a potential passenger who has obvious symptoms of coronavirus, but drivers must be careful. Assumptions about potential victims must not be based on any irrelevant factors. It would be difficult to justify refusing to carry passengers who don’t display symptoms. A taxi driver can legitimately refuse to take any hiring which would be for a destination outside the district.
Private hire operators aren’t under any obligation to enter into a contract to provide a vehicle for anybody provided any such refusal is not based on a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (section 4 - age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; sexual orientation). Once bookings are accepted, a contract is in place to provide a vehicle and driver for that hiring.
If on arriving at the pickup point, the driver sees that the passenger is displaying obvious symptoms of coronavirus then they may feel it is not safe to carry that passenger. In this case, drivers need to discuss with their operator with the contract for hire being between the hirer and the operator (there is also a contract between the operator and the driver which will need to be considered as well) how to proceed with the booking.
- What about our business/income?
Hackney carriage and private hire drivers are not legally required to be working presently. It is appreciated drivers need to make a living and it is for individual drivers to decide whether they are prepared to take the risks associated with providing taxi and private hire services at this time. Members of the public rely on taxi and private hire services for transport and presently licensed services forms a vital form of transport for many including journeys to and from hospitals, surgeries and for essential shopping trips.
Drivers must not work if they have a new continuous cough and/or a high fever and should at that point self isolate in line with Government guidance. Government advice issued on 23rd March require all people to stay at home, but an exception is: “Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.” Key workers continue to work (and are allowed to send their children to school).
Key workers include a category referred to as “transport” which includes those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the COVID-19 response, including those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass (view guidance). Taxi and private hire services provide vital forms of transport for many, and drivers appear to fall into this category.
On 25 March the DfT issued the following information: “Taxis and private hire vehicles can continue to work. But the advice is absolutely clear - people should stay at home if possible. That is the way to save lives and protect our NHS. The public should avoid travel unless absolutely essential. Clearly if absolutely necessary to travel by taxi or private hire vehicle, best efforts should be used to follow the guidance as far as is practically possible, including washing hands regularly.”
The government are considering support measures for self-employed persons and expected to make an announcement about this shortly. If you require guidance on the financial aid available from central government, please review the following pages:
- Are we 'critical workers'?
Taxi and private hire drivers are not generally considered as ‘critical workers’. Those undertaking home to school transport or the transport of vulnerable people may be considered critical workers on a case-by-case basis.
- Driver duties generally (Health and Safety)
Hackney carriage or private hire drivers, licensed vehicle proprietors and operators, whether self-employed or employees, have responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to both themselves and those who are likely to come into contact with their business. Drivers and proprietors of the vehicle both have a responsibility to ensure to the best of their ability that the vehicle is safe. Whilst this usually relates to mechanical safety, clearly environmental safety is also vital.
Licensees should already have a Health and Safety Policy in place and it is recommended to amend this and practice to incorporate a risk assessment relating to the coronavirus which survives on surfaces for a significant period of time. Ideally every vehicle should be disinfected after every hiring. This may not be practically possible but it is possible to ensure some form of cleaning of obvious areas takes place (e.g door handles, seat belts and buckles and any other obvious hard surface that may have been touched by a passenger). This should include areas that may have been infected following a passenger coughing or sneezing such as physical divisions between the front and rear of the vehicle, the rear of front seats and so on. The guidance from the Government is: “frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products” This will help to protect health and reassure customers.
- Reduced demand for taxi and private hire services
Sadly we anticipate reduced demand for hackney carriage and private hire services relating to commercial and leisure activities for some time ahead. There is likely to be demand to assist people to shop, attend hospitals, and for key worker passengers go to work. It may also be the case that taxis and private hire vehicles will be used for deliveries if shops provide essential items but don’t have their own delivery service. In these difficult times, these would be legitimate activities.
No activity however is risk free and it is key is to follow legal restrictions and Government guidance so far as is possible and practicable, and beyond that for drivers to take all sensible reasonable precautions to protect both themselves, goods and passengers. If you propose to offer delivery services, please contact your insurance provider to ensure this is included within your insurance cover.
- Compliance and MOT certificates
The Government has announced there will be an extension to existing MOT certificates for cars, vans and motorbikes from 30 March with any MOT expiring beyond that date being extended for 6 months. The Institute of Licensing have contacted the DfT to enquire about legislation to extend the period covered by certificates of compliance issued by licensing authorities. The DFT view is this is not possible as certificates of compliance are issued by local authorities under different powers.
As the licensing authority, we don’t propose to waive a requirement for testing when current vehicle test certificates expire. We will continue to monitor the situation and update this page and our testing stations if it is possible and we agree it is appropriate to extend compliance and vehicle test certificates validity periods. We hope you can respect our primary purpose is to promote public safety and we have to be satisfied vehicles are mechanically safe to maintain licences.
- Hackney carriage and private hire licence extensions and renewals
All hackney carriage and private hire licences are granted for a limited period and need renewing. Licence periods have maximum set validity periods of 1 year for a vehicle licence, 3 years for a driver licence and 5 years for an operator licence. There is no statutory mechanism contained in the legislation to extend a licence term unless a renewal application is made.
The Institute of Licensing have asked the DFT whether this can be considered as part of the emergency legislation suggesting licences could be extended by 6 months. At the time of writing this update we are awaiting a reply to this.
We have a statutory duty not to grant driver and operator licences unless we are satisfied applicants are ‘fit and proper’ persons. We cannot grant a vehicle licence without being satisfied that the vehicle itself is “in a suitable mechanical condition and safe” . Applications need to be made in the conventional way (we are happy to receive these by post or electronically online as much as possible). We must be satisfied that required criteria is met before we can issue a renewed licence and we have recently issued an e-letter (see downloadable PDF below) update in relation to flexibility we can provide with application criteria presently.
Waiving of crucial fitness and safety requirements would place the authority at risk of legal challenge and should a subsequent incident occur such as an unroadworthy licensed vehicle crashing, or a driver with fresh criminal convictions abusing a passenger, it would place you and us in a difficult position.