The Assistant Director of Improving Public Health submitted an exempt report in connection with an application for a Combined Hackney Carriage/Private Hire Vehicle Driver Licence, Ref: 04/16, where circumstances had arisen which required special consideration by the Committee.
The Chair introduced those present and outlined the procedure to be followed. The driver, who was in attendance at the meeting accompanied by his brother and legal representative, verified his name and address and confirmed that he had received a copy of the report.
The Acting Principal Licensing Officer presented the report setting out the circumstances of the case as detailed in the submitted report.
The matter was first considered by the Licensing Committee on 15 February 2016, when Members determined to defer consideration of the matter to the next meeting to enable a vulnerability assessment of the applicant to be carried out by an appropriately qualified officer of the Council, and for the Committee to seek internal advice on the extent of its statutory duties in relation to safeguarding and whether those duties applied to the applicant.
It was reported that Officers had made appropriate enquiries with both the Councils Legal Services and Adult Social Services sections. Having spoken with both at length, it became apparent that, under these specific circumstances, the Council did not have a statutory duty of care towards the applicant. The Senior Licensing Officer was advised that an assessment would not be carried out under the circumstances and that such an assessment would only be undertaken if the person in question requested an assessment themselves. Both the Legal Services and Adult Social Services sections did not believe it was appropriate to impose such an assessment on the applicant. Members were, therefore, asked to consider the information contained in the report to determine whether they considered the applicant to be a fit and proper person to hold a taxi licence.
The report provided background information in relation to the application which was first received by the Licensing Section in December 2011. The test, required to be passed by all applicants prior to a Hackney Carriage/Private Hire Vehicle Driver licence being issued, consisted of various elements including knowledge of the local area, laws affecting the taxi trade, Highway Code and basic numeracy skills. At the time the application was made, the applicant produced a report from Middlesbrough College that suggested he was dyslexic and requested that Officers should take this into account when testing the applicant. The applicant subsequently cancelled a test that was arranged for him in February 2012 and did not arrange a further test until May 2013. At that time, the applicant undertook the test on a one to one basis with a Licensing Officer reading out all of the questions directly to the applicant and recording his answers accordingly. Additional time was allowed for the applicant to complete the test. On that occasion the applicant failed every section of the test.
The applicant then arranged to take a re-test in July 2013 and was re-tested under the same conditions as previously. Although there was a slight improvement in his scores, and he did pass the Highway Code section of the test, he again failed the test overall.
Four further test appointments were made for the applicant, however, on each occasion the applicant cancelled the appointments prior to the test being undertaken.
The applicant was formally tested in October 2013 and again passed the Highway Code section of the test but failed all other areas and was unsuccessful overall. The testing officer raised concerns regarding the application with the Senior Licensing Officer as it was his opinion that continuing to test the applicant in this manner was unlikely to result in the applicant being successful in passing the test and was a waste of the applicants time and money. The Senior Licensing Officer was in agreement and wrote to the applicant in November 2013 to advise that the matter was to be referred to the Licensing Committee for Members consideration and invited the applicant for a pre-committee interview. No response was received and a significant period of time elapsed where the Licensing Section received no indication from the applicant as to whether he wished to continue with his application.
In May 2014 the applicant telephoned the Licensing Section to advise that he wished to continue with his application and asked that an appointment for interview be arranged via his brother, who was assisting him.
In 2014 a new testing process was introduced for Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle driver licence applicants, which involved applicants being tested in groups of approximately 20 people. The majority of the test now consisted of multiple choice questions and it was the opinion of the testing officer that the current test was not as demanding as the previous one, however, due to it being a written test, any applicants who had difficulties with reading or writing tended to find it more challenging.
Following discussions with the Principal Licensing Officer, it was decided that the applicant should undertake the new test prior to his application being referred to Committee. The applicant undertook the test in September 2015 when the questions were read to him by the Senior Licensing Officer who also recorded his responses. The applicant passed the Highway Code section of the test but failed all other areas. Given the applicants previous difficulties with the test, the Senior Licensing Officer raised concerns with the applicants brother regarding the applicants ability to pass the current test. His brother agreed and felt that the applicant would struggle to undertake the test in one session and suggested that if his brother was allowed to undertake the test in stages it would allow him to focus to a greater extent. This suggestion was agreed to and the applicant was tested over three separate sessions, each session consisting of two parts of the full six part test. The applicant subsequently passed all areas of the test, however, he had difficulties with the numeracy section of the test and was unable to answer one of the questions until he was provided with visual assistance in the form of coins. It was the testing officers opinion that the applicant would not have passed the numeracy section of the test without that assistance and would not be able to pass the test if it was undertaken in the standard format.
Whilst the applicant had now passed the test, he had not passed it in the manner applied to other applicants. This was not the first occasion where the testing process had been amended to take into account special needs of applicants and previous applicants with dyslexia had undertaken the test verbally applied by officers. This was, however, the first occasion where an applicant had undertaken the test in sections and been unable to pass without visual aids. Officers had also expressed concerns that the applicant did not have the requisite social skills to deal with the more difficult demands of the taxi trade, such as abusive or violent passengers. It was the opinion of Officers that if the applicant was unable to deal with such situations he may be put at greater risk than a driver with more advanced social skills.
A letter, attached at Appendix 1, from the Additional Learning Support Manager at Middlesbrough College, was submitted by the applicant and the Senior Licensing Officer subsequently spoke with the Manager in relation to the application. The Manager advised that he did not know the applicant personally but had met with him regarding his application. He explained that the letter he had provided related to the general allowances expected in relation to an individual with dyslexia. The Manager advised that the action taken by officers in relation to the applicant completing his taxi test appeared suitable when making allowances for any applicant with dyslexia but was unable to comment further regarding the applicants ability to deal with the more demanding areas of the taxi driver role.
It was confirmed that there were no further questions and the applicant, his representatives, and officers of the Council, other than representatives of the Councils Legal Services and Democratic Services, withdrew whilst the Committee determined the application.
Subsequently all interested parties returned and the Chair announced the Committees decision.
ORDERED that the application for a Private Hire Vehicle driver licence only, Ref No 04/16, be granted for a period of 12 months. As agreed by the applicant, and for the reasons given below, the licence granted was only in respect of a licence to drive Private Hire Vehicles and not a combined licence to drive both Private Hire Vehicles and Hackney Carriages as referred to in the original application.
Having considered the contents of the report, the representations and the information provided by the applicant and his representatives the Committee considered its decision to be appropriate for the following reasons:-
Members were concerned regarding the number of tests and adaptations made to those tests, in order for the applicant to pass the test required to be completed successfully by all applicants.
Members were also concerned that the applicant had experienced difficulties with the numeracy part of the testing process and had concerns as to whether the applicant could adequately deal with testing social situations and the handling of transfers of cash/payments. However, Members noted that the applicants employer would support him in his employment and restrict the types of private hire bookings he would undertake, if necessary, in order to meet his capabilities. Therefore, after consideration, the Committee decided to grant a licence to the applicant to drive Private Hire Vehicles only and to limit the length of that licence to a period of 12 months, in light of Members concerns.