COVID-19 - advice for licensed drivers

Last updated: 23 September 2020 at 4.45pm

Following the Prime Ministers announcement on 22 September 2020, the Department for Transport (DfT) laid a Statutory Instrument in both Houses of Parliament to mandate the wearing of face coverings in taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) in England under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. This regulation has now come into effect.

In line with public transport and retail settings the Regulations gives new powers to taxi and PHV drivers to deny access to a service, and to direct someone to leave a service, if they are not wearing a face covering without a legitimate reason. If passengers fail to comply, the Police have a power to remove passengers from a service (using reasonable force if necessary), and issue a Fixed Penalty Notice. The requirement only applies when a service is being provided i.e. passengers are not required to wear a face covering when the vehicle is used for personal use.

We always recommended that passengers wear face coverings in PHVs and taxis and moving to mandating this is a reasonable additional step to take to reduce the risk of infection when used alongside other measures. We will also be working with taxi and PHV operators and drivers to ensure that all passengers are aware of the exemptions to this regulation. There are health, age, equalities and other reasons why someone may not be able to wear a face covering. It is crucial that operators and passengers are aware of these exemptions to ensure that everyone can have confidence in using public transport. DfT will publish updated guidance as soon as possible for operators and passengers on travelling safely during the outbreak. The guidance will reflect the latest information about face coverings. I would be grateful if you could share the change and the updated guidance with your licensees.

We would also like to take this opportunity to draw your attention a number of assets which DfT are creating to support our stakeholders to communicate this change. The assets will contain messages around how to ensure both drivers and customers are kept safe, as well as messaging on exemptions. The assets will be made available on the DfT website shortly alongside the existing assets we have available. Please do cascade these assets and resources to your members/networks.

The following COVID guidance pages have been updated:

Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer transport guidance for operators

Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer travel guidance for passengers

Face coverings: when to wear one, exemptions, and how to make your own

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.

Guidance for licensed drivers

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
  • 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.

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.

Hackney carriage and private hire licence extensions and renewals

In the letter sent out to licence holders on 25 March 2020 (please see below) the licensing team had taken the decision to allow the renewal fees to be paid for in two equal instalments until 1 September 2020. It has been decided to allow this to continue until 11 December 2020, however the time frame for the full payment on vehicle fees has reduced from six months to three months. The first instalment must be paid with the application and the vehicle licence holder will receive a reminder to pay the outstanding fee three months from that date.

PDF document Letter to licence holders - Covid-19 (PDF) [157 kb]

Face coverings

Read the latest government guidance stating that members of the public wear face coverings on public transport did not include taxi and private hire passengers or drivers.

The wearing of face coverings is a sensible approach to ensure that if you have symptoms of COVID-19, you reduce the likelihood of passing it onto other people. The government still recommend that sanitising your vehicle between passengers, ensuring social distancing, adequate ventilation and regular hand washing is the best way to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. It is sensible, and recommended, that drivers and passengers wear a non-medical face covering. The government has released guidance on making your own face covering

We advise operators recommend to customers at the time of booking their expectation for customers to wear face masks or provide reasons they would be unable to.

If on risk assessment a driver determines their safety may be compromised by carrying a passenger who is not wearing a face mask it would be reasonable to refuse that passenger(s). Drivers need to bear in mind those who are exempted from wearing face masks through age, disability or underlying medical issues”

Use of protective/temporary screens in licensed vehicles

We have received enquiries regarding use of protective temporary screens in licensed vehicles. Partition screens already feature in licensed hackney carriage vehicles and can (subject to approval and risk assessment) be installed in licensed private hire vehicles. The Local Government Association has produced a guidance note (see below) which includes considerations to be taken into account when considering approval of protective screens in licensed vehicles.

Frequently asked questions

Can licensed drivers refuse customers who refuse to wear facemasks for their own protection?

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.

Taxi drivers and operators are entitled to refuse journeys if customers refuse to wear face masks.

Hackney Carriages

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 or who refuse to wear facemasks. It is reasonable for a driver to consider their own health, safety and protection. The public have a part to play in protecting themselves, other passengers and the driver during their journeys. A taxi driver can legitimately refuse to take any hiring which would be for a destination outside the district.

Private Hire

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. It is recommended operators establish if customers have any COVID-19 related symptoms or concerns at the time of booking.

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. As with hackney carriage drivers journey requests can be refused if passengers refuse to wear facemasks. Drivers are entitled to consider their own protection, health and safety.

What about our business/income?

It is appreciated that hackney carriage and private hire 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.

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.

The government previously issued announcements on support measures for self-employed persons. If you require guidance on the financial aid available from central government, please review the following pages:

Support for those affected by Covid-19

Covid-19 support for businesses

Covid-19 self-employment income support scheme

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.

Further information

PDF document Taxi PHV DforT Letter with Questions and answers - COVID-19 (PDF) [371 kb]

PDF document Local Government Association - Use of screens in PHVs and Taxis (PDF) [519 kb]

PDF document Use of facemasks in licensed taxis and private hire vehicles (PDF) [142 kb]

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