I will take this opportunity to thank you for your detailed response to the trades concerns and suggestions regarding the Covid-19 crisis that we find ourselves in.
Public safety is of course a priority regarding licensing of this trade, but please also be aware that because a driver is licensed, he is still human and has the same difficulties to struggle through as many others do during this time.
It was interesting to note that you have taken advice from NALEO and the IoL, who are associations just like ourselves, yet their opinion appears to hold more weight than ours. Considering we represent stakeholders in Sheffield this is a surprise to us and raises the question to just what importance you put on the views of the people who are licensed by you.
However, I feel that some of SCC licensing responses have neither considered the current financial situation that drivers find themselves in by either not working, or when working having to survive on a dramatic reduction of 85% in work available.
SCC have stated that s48 of the LGPMA states that a vehicle license may not run for more than 1 year and that the mechanical condition (safety) of the vehicle must be satisfied of its statutory requirements before a license is issued however it appears that SCC have not considered that the same section of the Act at (2) states the following.
A district council may attach to the grant of a licence under this section such conditions as they may consider reasonably necessary including, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provisions of this subsection, conditions requiring or prohibiting the display of signs on or from the vehicle to which the licence relates.
It is of my opinion that this grants an authority the ability to extend the term of a license when reasonably necessary and gives SCC the ‘get out clause’ (without prejudice) of not being taken to court for a condition that over rules the main body (generality) or the previous (foregoing) sub section of s48 at (1)(a)(iii) in regards to the suitable mechanical condition. My emphasis is added.
Perhaps this is what other authorities such as Cardiff, Coventry, Chesterfield, NE Derbyshire, Manchester, Glasgow and the whole of Northern Ireland, to mention just a few, have given extensions to all licenses.
While I understand that your concern was of a vehicle test failure rate of between 20-35% this is a little ambiguous and does not separate vehicles failing from MOT or compliance failures, although I appreciate that the compliance aspect of the test has been removed. This does bring the question to if the cost of the test has been reduced to reflect this change?
It is also noted that authorities have indeed extended the age of a working vehicle due to local conditions during this time, without the need for following due process as set out by each authority. What would be the process and time frame for a driver to request an extension of their current vehicle following the SCC conditions and the fact that most if not all council committee’s and meetings are currently cancelled?
It is understandable that the drivers have also attended test slots as your observation from the 6th of April, however SCC must be mindful that the suggestions we have made have not been adopted and drivers will have felt obligated to make such appointments.
I do not accept the statement from SCC that “Licence application payments cover administrative time spent in issuing the licence together with an element of ongoing maintenance. These principles have not altered as a result of the Covid-19 situation” because they have as you reference in your response. SCC are working a skeleton staff which although does not reflect on the administration or production of licenses, it does restrict any on street enforcement being undertaken, which again I am sure has not been reflected in the cost of any of the licenses applied for, or indeed any that are current and have been paid for. As you are aware, pre and post costs of licenses are two very separate matters.
I am sure you received the Guidance on the 9th of April from the Local Government Association that highlighted the following points in regards to Covid-19 and Taxi & Private Hire vehicle testing and renewals, which states.
- For taxis and private hire vehichles (PHVs), it is unlikely that new applicants will be able to complete the required pre-application checks/tests so it may be sensible to discourage applicants from submitting them at this time. As there is no mechanism for not accepting applications, any application that is submitted which does not meet the pre-application criteria would need to be rejected; those that do meet the criteria may still be processed.
- For taxi/PHV renewals there are various options to consider:
- As MOTs have been extended for six months, councils may want to consider whether a time limited extension can be considered for other vehicle requirements and renewals offered on the basis that these are completed once normal business resumes (recognising that there may be a backlog of MOTs to get through at that point). Where renewals of vehicle licences are due, some councils area requesting an application form but advising that they will not process this until a fee can be paid and all relevant documents are in place.
- Consideration could also be given to voluntary suspension of licences, for example vehicle licences so proprietors who are not planning to use vehicles for work can reduce costs such as insurance whilst not working.
- Where caps on hackney licences are in place, thought may need to be given to how this could work for example holding a licence/plate for three months and then inviting them to reapply.
- Councils do not have the power to extend existing taxi/PHV licences, for example to reflect the fact that taxis and PHVs have been significantly hampered in operating. However, when a licensee’s existing licence ends, council are able to issue temporary, short term licences, for example for a period to reflect the length of the lockdown period.
- For licences issued under the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018, councils may wish to extend licences for three months to reduce the need for inspection and the risks involved whilst the outbreak continues. Defra have advised that Regulation 9 allows councils to vary licences with the consent in writing (including email) of the licence holder or where the licence holder makes an application. Councils may wish to consider using this as a mechanism for extending licences for three months where this is deemed necessary, on a case by case basis.
- For renewal applications for other licence types, councils have offered licensees the choice to defer renewal for six months. Where all renewal requirements are met, these may still be considered as renewals even though there will have been a gap between the two licences. Others have asked for a small retainer fee to retain a licence plate, with the full renewal fee to be paid at a later date.
This is ironically what we have been asking for and for the same reasons.
To be clear, I am not looking for a reduction in license fee’s but simply the renewal of said licenses for all concerned to be addressed due to this crisis. However, due to the lack of empathy shown by SCC in this unprecedented time it does raise questions as to what SCC are charging and what the licensee is getting in return for the renewal.
It was with a truly positive mind that the suggested requirements were taken into consideration at this specific moment in time and that SCC would see the whole picture of what the drivers and proprietors of vehicles and companies were going through, but it was quite clear from the response that the financial difficulties that the licensees find themselves in was not taken into consideration by the authority and emphasised with your comment that the self employed will have a financial aid package from government, unfortunately drivers are not able to work from home or indeed be grateful of the 80% wage guarantee that furloughed employees are in receipt of.
While I find your initial response disappointing, I trust that you will reconsider the situation after reading this.
The licensed drivers and I look forward to a response to this communication forth with which will be disseminated as this correspondence has been.
NPHTA Board Member