EXCLUSIVE: Council blunder could see Fenland's taxi drivers share £100,000 payout
PUBLISHED: 08:30 21 October 2011
A COUNCIL blunder could see Fenland's taxi and private hire drivers share a £100,000 windfall.
An investigation by the National Private Hire Association (NPHA) found that Fenland District Council has failed, for more than a decade, to advertise increases in vehicle and operator licence fees.
Ironically the mistake was picked up by Councillor Dave Patrick, who also chairs the Wisbech and District Taxi Drivers’ Association.
“I’m dismayed that the council has failed to keep its own house in order,” he said.
A council spokesman said: “We have published the fees on our website, as we do with all our fees. Our error was to fail to advertise them in a local newspaper.”
A 35-year-old law means councils must advertise rises in “at least one local newspaper” if the licence fee exceeds £25. The current cost of a vehicle licence in Fenland is £115.
Bryan Roland, General Secretary of the NPHA, said that, under the statute, taxi drivers were entitled to compensation for the unadvertised fees in the last six years.
Mr Roland said this would result in payments of £481.50 for every hackney carriage driver in Fenland, as well as £476 for private hire drivers and £229.65 for operators. He said the blunder could cost the council more than £100,000.
Mr Roland said: “What we’ve said to them is quite simple. If they want to take it to the Ombudsman then that’s fine, but we’re giving them a chance to respond.
“We’ve written but we’ve had no answers apart from the acknowledgement of their mistake. Whether it’s a ‘bury your head in the sand job’ or not, the point is this has got to be resolved.”
The council spokesman said that not every driver would be affected, as some operators ran more than one vehicle, and it was “very unclear” how much money could be involved.
He said: “We do not believe the figures quoted by Mr Roland are correct. We are currently examining both the numbers involved and the potential financial implications.”
The mistake mirrors a similar case earlier this year in which Guildford Borough Council paid almost £100,000 to cabbies after failing to advertise fee increases.
The spokesman added: “A number of other councils are also currently reviewing their processes following the court case in Guildford.
“Any driver seeking to make a claim will need to provide detailed evidence of that claim to enable it to be investigated and a remedy found. Any successful claim will be only be settled once that evidence has been provided.
“It is important to stress that the council does not make money from these charges. They simply pay for the service and ensure that it does not cost the council or the general public.”
Cllr Patrick said: “This investigation was done on behalf of every taxi driver in Fenland. It’s a massive amount of money for a basic mistake. I mean, how much does an advert cost?
“It’s absolutely amazing that they still haven’t advertised the rises, despite all this going on. They just don’t seem to have a clue what they’re doing.”