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Council’s former taxi licensing policy criticised by Ombudsman

A Lancashire council, whose taxi licensing team could not cope with the high volume of out-of-area applications it received, has been criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman after a woman could not work for nearly four months while she waited for her paperwork.

Taxi drivers can work for pre-booked purposes in any area of the country once they have been granted a licence and councils can set their own criteria for awarding those licences. The father of one woman complained that Rossendale Borough Council’s licensing policy meant it received a high volume of out-of-area applications, to the detriment of those wanting to work in the borough.

The father told the Ombudsman his daughter was unable to work for 16 weeks while waiting for the council to process her licence. She had already secured a job with a local firm, but could not work until she had the correct documents.

When the man tried to complain to the council about his daughter’s treatment, the council refused to deal with him so he took his complaint to the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the length of time the council took to process the woman’s application did not amount to good administrative practice. There was no suggestion the delay in issuing the woman’s licence was for any legitimate reason.

In response to the Ombudsman’s enquiries, the council said the backlog was due to a significant increase in the number of new applicants, particularly from outside its area. The council has since allocated more staff to its licensing unit and has also introduced pre-requisite assessments and policies for those not intending to use their licence within the borough’s boundaries.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“While I recognise councils need to go through the proper process and carry out the relevant safety checks before awarding licences, I consider the time taken in this case to be overly long.

“The council should have foreseen that its decision not to place restrictions on drivers from outside the borough applying for licences would have had an effect on the volume of applications it received. It should have allocated sufficient resources to deal with the demand earlier.

“I am pleased to see that the council has now put in place measures to prevent the situation reoccurring, however I would now urge the council to consider and implement the remedy I have recommended.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to improve local public, and adult social care, services.

In this case, to remedy the situation, the council should pay the daughter £350 in recognition of the uncertainty and time and trouble she has been put to.

It should also identify and review any other complaints received about delays in processing taxi licence applications under its previous policy. It should identify any other applicants in a similar position to this case who are able to show they suffered a significant injustice and consider how it should remedy this.

Article date: 04 July 2017