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Norwich City Council (19 001 330)

Category : Environment and regulation > Licensing

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 06 Aug 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council has accepted that it was at fault when it failed to properly advise Mr B about his private hire taxi licence and failed to submit his Disclosure and Barring Service application. Mr B says he wasted fees and lost earning potential for 19 days. The Council has apologised, refunded most of the wasted fees, and offered to pay £100 as a goodwill gesture. The Council should refund the remainder of the fees but we cannot recommend that it compensate him for his lost earning potential. In this case, the court is best placed to decide this.

The complaint

  1. Mr B complains about how the Council handled his application for a private hire taxi licence. Mr B says the Council’s delay caused him wasted fees, inconvenience and lost earnings.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
  3. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the information Mr B submitted and discussed his complaint with him. I considered the Council’s responses to Mr B. I also considered considered the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provision) Act 1976 and the Ombudsman’s guidance on remedies.
  2. Mr B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

The law and guidance

  1. The government says it is for individual councils to make their own decisions on taxi licensing policies and individual licence applications. The aim of licensing is to protect the public while ensuring they have reasonable access to taxi services.
  2. A taxi licence means a vehicle licence granted by the council under the Town Police Clauses Act (TPCA) or the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provision) Act (LGMPA).
  3. The LGMPA says councils may require applicants to submit such information as they may reasonably consider necessary to enable them to determine whether the license should be granted and whether conditions should be attached to any such license.

The Council’s taxi licensing process

  1. The Council’s website sets out the requirements for applicants for private hire taxi licences. It says that before you apply for a licence you need to pass a driving assessment and a ‘knowledge test’. Amongst other items, you must submit a medical certificate and Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificate with your application. The DBS certificate must be less than a month old. The Council’s website says that you should not complete the online application until you have all the documentation ready.

What happened

  1. Mr B contacted the Council on 28 February. He asked the Council to take the DBS application despite that at that stage he did not have all the required documentation for his application. The Council accepts that it did not advise Mr B properly about the process and should have told him to get the medical certificate, and pass the driving assessment and knowledge exam before applying for the DBS certificate. The Council has reminded its staff and provided extra training on this.
  2. The Council misfiled the DBS application and had not submitted it. Mr B contacted the Council again on 18 March. The Council accepted that it should have submitted the DBS application immediately as promised. Mr B withdrew his application and the Council refunded the application fee. Mr B applied to a neighbouring council on 19 March and gained his taxi licence.
  3. Mr B complained to the Council on 20 March and it responded on 26 March. It acknowledged that it had wrongly advised Mr B of the process and had failed to submit his DBS application. It apologised for its shortcomings.
  4. Mr B told the Council he had lost potential earnings because he could not start work without a licence. The Council said it would not be appropriate to compensate his loss of earnings as it could not assess these, but it did offer to pay £85 for his medical assessment that had to be repeated and a further £100 in recognition of the delays.

My analysis

  1. The Council has acknowledged that it was at fault when it failed to properly advise Mr B of the process and when it failed to submit his DBS application. This caused Mr B to waste fees and delayed the granting of his licence by at least 19 days. It also caused Mr B time and trouble in making the new application, and frustration.
  2. The Council has apologised, refunded the medical and application fee, and offered to pay £100 as a goodwill gesture. The Council dealt with the matter as soon as it came to light and so its offer of £100 is a proportionate amount in recognition of the frustration caused to Mr B. The Council should also refund the £27 paid for the driving assessment.
  3. I have considered whether I can recommend a payment in respect of Mr B’s lost opportunity to earn in the 19-day delay. I am not able to assess or estimate Mr B’s earning potential in that time. For this reason, Mr B’s loss of earning potential is a matter best dealt with by the court who can establish whether the Council has been negligent and award damages in this regard.

Agreed action

  1. The Council has acknowledged its fault and apologised to Mr B. It has addressed this with its staff. It has refunded the wasted fees for Mr B’s application and medical assessment, and offered to make a payment of £100.
  2. The Council has agreed to also refund £27 in respect of Mr B’s driving assessment.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. There was fault by the Council causing injustice to Mr B. It has agreed to remedy the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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