The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained the Council gave him incorrect information about his private hire vehicle licence renewal. Mr X says this negatively affected his finances. The Council was at fault for giving Mr X incorrect information. It caused Mr X avoidable frustration. The Council has appropriately remedied the injustice Mr X experienced.
- Mr X complained the Council failed to give accurate information about its private hire vehicle license transfer process. He also said the Council's complaint response was inadequate.
- Mr X said the Council's actions meant he suffered financial loss because he had to change the insurance policy on his father’s car and was unable to work for two weeks.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered:
- all the information Mr X provided and discussed the complaint with him; and
- the Council’s supporting documents and policies.
What I found
- Private hire vehicles (PHV’s) must have car licenses. Each driver must also have a personal license. The Council's taxi department issues both licenses. It charges £165 for a car license.
- The Council could previously transfer car licenses between owners. People who wanted to transfer a car license had to do it in person at the Council's depot.
- In January 2020, the Council introduced a new system to manage its licenses. It meant the Council could no longer do transfers. It advertised the change on its website and at a meeting of the Private Hire Association.
- In March 2020, the Council announced it was shutting its depot for appointments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It would only open in exceptional circumstances.
- Mr X and his father worked as PHV drivers and shared his father’s car. In early 2020, Mr X’s father decided he no longer wanted to drive or own the car. The car license was due to expire in early July.
- In early May 2020, Mr X asked the Council to transfer the car license from his father to him. The Council responded to say it could not do the transfer because its depot was shut. Mr X was unhappy the Council did not agree it was an ‘exceptional circumstance’.
- In late May, Mr X transferred ownership of the car to himself and paid for insurance in his name. The Council had not agreed to the transfer by that point.
- In early June, Mr X paid £165 to renew his father’s license and confirmed he still wanted to transfer the car license. The Council said it had put Mr X’s details on the car license but had some outstanding details to check. It said it could not complete them because its systems were down.
- The following day the Council told Mr X it could not do a transfer because its depot was shut. It told Mr X to keep the car and insurance in his father’s name with him as a named driver. The car license would therefore still be valid, and Mr X could use it to work.
- In late June 2020, Mr X cancelled his insurance and bought a new policy in his father’s name where he was a named driver. He transferred ownership of the car back to his father. He told the Council he had been unable to work while waiting for the changes. He wanted the Council to pay £400 to cover the costs and refund the £165 license fee.
- The Council responded in early July to say:
- it apologised for giving Mr X the wrong information about license transfers;
- it cannot do transfers. Car licenses must be surrendered by the existing owner and an application made by the new owner;
- new applications involve a vehicle safety check and the depot, which was shut due to COVID-19; and
- it had reminded staff to give accurate information.
- When Mr X contacted the Council in early May, it incorrectly told him it could not do the transfer because its depot was shut. It later said it was processing the transfer before again saying it could not complete the transfer because the depot was shut. The Council had, in fact, stopped accepting transfers several months earlier. It finally told Mr X this in its complaint response. The Council's failure to give Mr X the correct information in May was fault and caused him undue confusion and frustration. In its complaint response, the Council apologised and reminded staff to give accurate information. I consider this a suitable remedy for the injustice Mr X experienced.
- Although the Council's rationale was incorrect, it clearly told Mr X it could not do a transfer when he first asked for one. Nonetheless, in late May, Mr X took ownership of the car and paid for insurance in his name on the assumption the transfer would happen. This invalidated the car license and meant Mr X could not work. The Council was not at fault for Mr X being unable to work while the car ownership and insurance were transferred back to his father.
- I have completed my investigation. I have found fault by the Council. The Council appropriately remedied the injustice Mr X experienced.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman