Council apologises after taxi fee blunder and offers refunds

Council apologises after taxi fee blunder and offers refunds
Clayton Berry, of Cleggy's Taxis

The ‘administrative error’ came to light following an objection to new fees that were being introduced at a Licensing Committee meeting at the Town Hall last night [Tuesday].

The Council wants to raise the fees paid by cab drivers in the town to ensure the licensing system for taxis is ‘self-financing’, as part of its five-year review into the service.

However, Clayton Berry, who runs Cleggy’s Taxis, says under a Freedom of Information [FOI] request, he found scores of safety inspections for taxis have not taken place, despite drivers having paid the Council for the tests.

He told the Times: “Taxis and private hire vehicles [PHV] have to take two tests to ensure the vehicles are roadworthy.

 “These vehicles do around 50,000 miles each year, so this second test is a critical safety test to ensure taxis are safe for members of the public.”

He says he discovered that last year, 86 out of the borough’s 256 licensed taxis never underwent the test, which are meant to be arranged by the Council.

Mr Berry, a former Chairman of the Tunbridge Wells Taxi Association, continued: “We pay £62 from our private licence or Hackney Carriage licence fee, which can cost up to £400 a year for some drivers – which is meant to go to MOT test centres to pay for these tests.

“If the tests are not taking place, where has the money gone?” he said, adding that according to his calculations around £5,000 was unaccounted for from fees from drivers in the last five years.

“Local Government rules say the Council can’t profit from licensing but they clearly are – this money should be returned to the drivers.”

The Council have apologised and blamed an ‘administrative error’.

A spokesperson said: “We are sorry about this and we are working with the administrative centre that manages the process for us to look into what has happened to take the necessary steps to ensure it does not continue.”

She added that the Council was establishing a process to provide refunds to those affected.

Diversity training introduced

AS PART of their five-yearly review in the town’s taxi service, TWBC are introducing online diversity training for all drivers.

The Equality Online training covers various subjects, including disability awareness, spotting county lines drug dealing, and child sexual exploitation.

The move follows publication of the Jay Report, which looked into the child sex scandal in Rotherham, and found taxi drivers played a prominent role in moving around children who were abused in the town between 1997-2013.

More than 1,400 girls between the age of 11 and 16 were said to have been abused during that time, and the report recommended that Councils provide the training so that taxi drivers can help agencies spot and report abuse.

The introduction of diversity training also follows an investigation in the Times in 2018, which found a number of young women had reported inappropriate sexual advances from taxi drivers in the town, as well as alleged assaults and solicitations for sex.

A spokesperson for the Council said: “The Council’s licensing committee is being asked to consider revisions to the Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Policy in order to ensure that the Council’s policies remain current and in line with expected changes to national standards.

“The revised policy would see all new driver applicants and existing drivers undertake the new Equality Online test on Safeguarding & Disability Awareness/County Lines Education. This change is designed to protect children and vulnerable adults from harm.”

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