Transport for London (19 017 597)

Category : Environment and regulation > Licensing

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 23 Nov 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr B complains that he did not receive Transport for London’s correspondence about a taxi delicensing application in May 2019 and that it did not properly deal with his further application in October 2019. He also says TfL delayed in dealing with his complaint. The Ombudsman finds TfL failed to respond to emails Mr B sent in October 2019. As a result, he lost the opportunity to submit further documents in support of his application. It also failed to respond to Mr B’s complaint causing him frustration and time and trouble. TfL has agreed to apologise to Mr B and make a payment.

The complaint

  1. Mr B complains that he did not receive Transport for London’s correspondence about a taxi delicensing application in May 2019 and that it did not properly deal with his further application in October 2019. As a result, he missed his opportunity to obtain a payment to delicence his taxi which no longer meets the criteria. Mr B also complains about Transport for London’s delay in dealing with his complaint.

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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. If we are satisfied with a body’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 all the information provided by Mr B, made enquiries of Transport for London (TfL) and considered its comments and the documents it provided.
  2. Mr B and TfL had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Legal and administrative background

  1. TfL’s taxi delicensing scheme enables owners of a diesel taxi that is less than 14 years old to delicense the vehicle in exchange for a payment from TfL. The amount of the payment depends upon the age of the vehicle.
  2. The conditions of the scheme state:
    • once the application is submitted and the correct signed documentation is received by TfL, the applicant will receive an inspection letter. He then has 14 working days from the date of that letter to book a delicensing inspection. A further 14 working days is permitted to present the taxi at a TfL authorised centre for a delicensing inspection;
    • if the applicant’s taxi has not passed the delicensing inspection within 28 working days from the date of the inspection letter TfL will withdraw the application without notice. The applicant will need to make a new application if he wishes to be considered for the scheme;
    • the taxi must successfully pass the delicensing inspection before the expiry of the taxi vehicle licence to be eligible for a payment;
    • once a payment has been made, the taxi will be permanently delicensed in Greater London and cannot be used in Greater London as a taxi; and
    • TfL in its absolute discretion can decline an application if the applicant does not: complete and submit the necessary forms within seven working days from receiving the second stage of application process letter; carry out a delicensing inspection within 28 working days from receiving the inspection letter; or provide sufficient information or additional information as required by TfL within five working days from TfL requesting such information.

Key facts

  1. In January 2019 Mr B submitted an application to delicense his taxi. TfL wrote to him in April 2019 enclosing documents for him to complete as part of the next stage of the application process. Mr B returned the signed documents which TfL added to its computer system.
  2. On 10 May 2019 TfL wrote to Mr B stating that, based on the information he had provided, it believed he would meet the eligibility requirements for the delicensing scheme and was eligible for a payment of £1000 if his vehicle passed the delicensing inspection. It said he must present his vehicle for a delicensing inspection within the next 28 days otherwise his application would be withdrawn without further notice.
  3. Mr B did not book an inspection. On 17 June 2019 TfL wrote to him stating that his application was refused because the vehicle had not been presented for an inspection within the 28 working days provided. The letter explained that, if he would still like to be considered for this grant, he would need to submit a new application.
  4. Mr B says he did not receive TfL’s letters.
  5. On 9 October 2019 Mr B submitted a second delicensing application.
  6. The same day TfL wrote to him by email enclosing three documents for him to sign as part of the next stage of the process. The letter stated that, to continue with the application, he must complete and sign all three documents and return them by email. The letter stated, “Please ensure all pages are returned with the required signatures on the applicable pages or we will be unable to progress your application”. It said the signed documents must be returned within seven working days otherwise the application would be withdrawn without notice.
  7. On 14 October 2019 Mr B returned the completed forms by email. The following day TfL responded advising that the documentation received was not clear. It said, “Please take clear pictures or scan the declaration form to the email below. We are unable to use the form you sent us on 14/10/2019 due to the lack of clarity”.
  8. Mr B responded the same day saying that he did not have access to a scanner and asked for TfL’s postal address so he could send a hard copy of the documents. He also suggested that TfL use the forms he had submitted with his previous application. TfL did not respond.
  9. On 16 October 2019 Mr B sent an email to TfL stating he had attached photos from his wife’s phone. TfL says it was unable to access the attachments.
  10. On 23 October 2019 Mr B’s vehicle licence expired so he could not proceed with a delicensing application. Mr B complained to TfL.
  11. On 31 October 2019 Mr B’s vehicle turned 14 years old and so was no longer eligible for a grant.
  12. On 7 November 2019 TfL wrote to Mr B by post and email refusing his application for delicensing.
  13. Having received no response to his complaint, Mr B wrote to TfL again on 18 November 2019. TfL did not respond so Mr B wrote to his MP on 3 December 2019. The MP wrote to TfL on Mr B’s behalf on 16 December 2019.
  14. On 15 January 2020 Mr B complained to the Ombudsman.
  15. TfL responded to Mr B’s complaint on 7 February 2020 and apologised for the delay.

Analysis

Mr B’s first application

  1. Mr B says he did not receive TfL’s correspondence about his first application. As a result, he failed to make an appointment for an inspection and his application was refused.
  2. TfL has provided copies of the correspondence it sent to Mr B. There is no evidence as to why Mr B did not receive these letters.
  3. I find no fault on TfL’s part. It sent the required information to Mr B and, when he did not arrange an inspection it was entitled to cancel the application in accordance with the terms and conditions of the scheme which state that TfL has absolute discretion to decline an application if the applicant fails to attend a delicensing inspection within 28 working days from receiving the inspection letter.

Mr B’s second application

  1. I find TfL was not at fault in failing to accept the previous signed documents. The scheme’s terms and conditions clearly state that, if an application is withdrawn, the applicant must submit a new application. The signed documents must be up-to-date because one of them confirms who is the current owner of the vehicle and another sets out how much state aid the owner has received within the previous three tax years. Clearly, this information could change and the position may have been different in October 2019 than it was in April 2019 when Mr B submitted the previous documents. I therefore find no grounds to criticise TfL for requiring Mr B to complete and sign new forms.
  2. TfL accepts Mr B attempted to send the new forms but says it did not receive accessible/clear copies to enable it to progress his second application before his vehicle licence lapsed on 23 October. It says it was Mr B’s responsibility to provide the required documentation in support of the second application to enable TfL to progress it further.
  3. TfL has provided copies of the forms submitted by Mr B in October 2019. Only small parts of the documents are visible. So, I accept TfL’s argument that it could not proceed with the application as the information provided was insufficient.
  4. However, I find TfL was at fault in failing to respond to Mr B’s request for the postal address and in failing to notify him that the photographs he attempted to submit on 16 October had not been received. Failure to do so denied him the opportunity to resend the documents electronically or submit them by post. If TfL had responded Mr B could still have submitted the documents in time for the cut-off date of 23 October.
  5. I cannot say whether Mr B’s vehicle would have passed the delicensing inspection. But TfL’s failure to respond to his emails of 15 and 16 October 2019 caused him a significant injustice because he lost the opportunity to re-submit the documents, attend an inspection and, if the vehicle passed, receive a payment.

TfL’s response to Mr B’s complaint

  1. Mr B complained to TfL in October and November 2019. His MP also wrote to TfL about the matter in December 2019. TfL did not respond to Mr B or his MP until February 2020 after being contacted by the Ombudsman. This was fault.
  2. TfL’s complaints procedure states that all complaints will be acknowledged within 48 hours and a full response will be provided within 10 working days.
  3. TfL’s delay in responding to Mr B’s complaint was excessive. While the delay did not alter the outcome of his delicensing application, it caused him a significant injustice. He suffered frustration and was put to time and trouble in having to chase up a response and in having to complain to his MP and the Ombudsman.

Agreed action

  1. TfL has agreed that, within one month of this decision, it will:
    • apologise to Mr B and pay him £250 in recognition of the injustice caused by its failure to respond to his request for TfL’s postal address and its failure to notify him that the photographs he attempted to submit on 16 October 2019 had not been received; and
    • pay Mr B a further £100 in recognition of the injustice caused by the delay in responding to his complaint.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation on the basis that TfL has agreed to implement the recommended remedy.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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