Women could be placed at a higher risk of assault because of Government plans to allow minicab drivers to lend their private-hire vehicles to family and friends when they are off duty, it has been warned.
The Local Government Association and charities are calling for the plans – which have been introduced into the deregulation bill – to be halted.
They say the reform was slipped into the legislation at the “eleventh hour” with “little consultation”. They want the clause deleted – a move being supported by the Labour party.
The law already exists in London but this change will apply to the rest of England and Wales.
At present minicabs outside the capital can only be legally driven by someone licensed through the council – who has undergone criminal, medical and background checks.
But under the new law, drivers will be able to loan their cars to anyone they choose. The idea is to help drivers by allowing family members to use their cars – as many can’t afford a second vehicle.
But campaigners say it could be used by sexual predators to target victims. “We know that posing as a legitimate minicab driver is the preferred method of some quite dangerous sexual predators and we know that from the statistics in London where sexual assaults by bogus minicab drivers are worryingly high,” said Rachel Griffin, director of the Suzy Lamplugh trust – which campaigns for better personal safety.
Councillor David Simmonds, of the LGA, added: “If we are seeing licenced vehicles that may be driven by someone other than the legitimate driver you won’t know when you come out of a nightclub late at night perhaps after a few drinks whether the person who is driving that cab… is someone you can trust.”
The fear is that unlicensed drivers will target vulnerable individuals who are frail or drunk using the vehicles.
Ministers say the change has been tried and tested in London. But the LGA says unlicensed vehicles are the scourge of the capital.
There were taxi-related sexual assaults across Britain last year including in places such as Cardiff, Birmingham and Nottingham. There were 37 in Manchester. In London there were 71 between April and November. The figures are not collected everywhere, so not available in comparable form.
Campaigners are asking why they can’t simply allow drivers to nominate one other driver within their family, rather than having a free for all.
Transport Minister Baroness Kramer said: “The Deregulation Bill will not put taxi passengers at risk and drivers will continue to have their backgrounds routinely checked. Councils will have strong tools to assess drivers’ and operators’ suitability and to carry out enforcement activity.
“The Disclosure and Barring Service will allow licensing authorities to discover any new convictions during the lifetime of a driver’s licence.”