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Restrictions on taxi driver background checks ‘putting children at risk’

New restrictions on background checks for taxi drivers are putting children at risk, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

Police forces are no longer providing information to councils on criminal investigations involving prospective taxi drivers because of a dispute between the Home Office and police on whether it is lawful, according to the LGA. The Home Office said that claim is “simply wrong”.

Some councils have also been told by the Disclosure and Barring Service that they can no longer check whether a prospective taxi driver has been barred from working with children or vulnerable adults unless they work on a school transport contract.

It comes as government's plans to extend the duration of taxi licences from one to three years will return to Parliament today as part of the Deregulation Bill.

The LGA is warning that forcing councils to issue longer licences without access to background checks on applicants could put children and vulnerable people at greater risk of becoming victims of sex crimes, exploitation and trafficking by organised gangs.

It is calling for the clauses in the Deregulation Bill to be deleted and a comprehensive reform of taxi and private hire vehicle licensing undertaken, based on the Law Commission's report last year.

Cllr Ann Lucas OBE, chair of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: "Extending the length of taxi licences without ensuring councils can keep carrying out robust checks risks putting children and vulnerable people at risk.”

She added: "Taxi drivers routinely work with vulnerable adults and children as part of their daily work, regardless of whether they have a school contract or not. It is imperative that councils can keep checking applicants against barred lists and be able to find out if they are under criminal investigation.

"The consequence could be councils unknowingly granting licences to people investigated for sexual offences and only finding out three years later when the driver renews the licence and has the conviction flagged up.

"As we know, the consequences for someone entering a taxi where the driver has not been adequately vetted by the council can be devastating. We should not be doing anything that increases the chances of that happening."

A Home Office spokesperson responded by saying the claims of the LGA are “simply wrong” and there is no dispute over the lawfulness of the police powers.

The spokesperson said: "The enhanced criminal record check includes a person's criminal record, any relevant police intelligence and whether a prospective driver is barred — this is not restricted to those working on a school transport contract and covers both children's and adults' barred lists.

"Where the police believe that someone under investigation could pose a risk to children or vulnerable groups, and they are a taxi driver or want to become a taxi driver, the police have a statutory duty to tell the local licensing authority. The Home Office supports and encourages the use of police powers in these circumstances.”

The Home Office also said that as part of the reforms proposed in the Deregulation Bill, licensing authorities can continue to carry out criminal record checks on taxi and private hire vehicle drivers every three years or they can carry those checks more regularly if they choose to.

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