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Transport of passengers – hackney carriages and private hire vehicles (taxis, minicabs)

This section contains:


England and Wales:

  'Hackney carriage' (i.e. taxi) licensing
    Control on number of taxi licences in the area of a local authority
    Right of Driver of licensed hackney carriage to drive out of district
    Definitions of “taxi” etc.; meaning of "plying for hire"
    Duties of taxi driver

    Guide dogs and disabled access
    London and other local legislation

  Private hire vehicles
    Definition of PHV and 'operate'
    Private hire contract
    Acts permitted by a PHV licence

    Plying for hire
    Roof signs
    London area

  Legislation common to taxis and private hire vehicles

  Law reform


Northern Ireland




These pages are concerned with the law and regulations relating to hackney carriages or taxis and private hire vehicles in the United Kingdom.

In the UK, taxis and private hire vehicles are generally vehicles adapted to carry fewer than nine passengers. The difference between taxis and private hire vehicles is that taxis are licensed for ''standing or plying for hire' (see below) in any street within the prescribed district; i.e. they may take a booking in the street or other public place, whereas private hire vehicles may not.

However, in recent years the distiction between taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs)has become blurred as taxis are frequently pre-booked, and PHVs are often booked immediately before hire, particularly with the aid of technology such as the 'Uber' application for smartphones.

Outside London and some cities, the distinction between hackney carriage and private hire services are not always obvious or even in existence. Hackney carriage fares are controlled by the council in 377 of the 389 local licensing authorities in England, Scotland and Wales and are governed by means of a sealed taximeter, and by a table of fares. In a reducing number of local authorities in England and Wales the number of hackney carriage vehicle licences is controlled (regulated), so there is no guarantee of entry to this section of the trade. Some councils maintain 'waiting lists' for hackney licences. In the major conurbations hackney carriages are typically ‘black cabs’ or purpose built vehicles, ie. London type Metropolitan Conditions of Fitness vehicles. Currently, however, the majority of towns and rural areas allow ordinary saloon cars, and/or increasingly MPV type vehicles, to have hackney plates and use taxi ranks. Unlike taxis, there is no power for a local authority to restrict the number of private hire vehicle licences which may be issued by a local authority.[Source: National Private Hire Association]

The law in each part of the UK is summarised below. For further detail on the regulation of taxis and private hire vehicles in the UK, see:

The Law Commission's Report on Taxi and Private Hire Services of May 2014

GOV.UK pages on Vehicle licences for private hire or taxis outside London

GOV.UK pages on Vehicle licences for taxis and private hire vehicles in London

See also other special subjects relevant to this activity:

Discrimination and disabled access requirements


Radio licensing

Smoke free premises and vehicles


England and Wales

Licensing of "hackney carriages" (i.e. taxis)

Licences for owners and drivers: owners and drivers of taxis 'standing' (i.e. wait at a taxi rank)] or 'plying for hire' (i.e. available for immediate booking on the street without prior booking) require a licence from the district council.

Taxis are referred to (in archaic language) as “hackney carriages” in the legislation (Town Police Clauses Act 1847, Transport Act 1985 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976).

Taxi operators: operation of a taxi, as distinct from owning and driving, is not regulated as such, unlike the case of private hire vehicles. Due to some lack of clarity in the law [Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, s46], some local authorities required operators of taxis to hold a private hire licence. However, the High Court in England has decided that: the legislation excluded operators of licensed taxis from the scope of regualtion.

R (on the application of Newcastle City Council) v Berwick-Upon-Tweed Borough Council [2008] EWHC 2369 (admin) (5 November 2008)

In granting or refusing licences the council must exercise a just and reasonable discretion, and in the case of drivers may require the applicant to attend in person.

Tacit consent: it appears that the authorities consider that tacit consent does not apply although at least some Scottish authorities do apply tacit consent. There is a right of appeal from refusal of a licence to the magistrates court.

Case law on licensing powers:

R (on the application of Newcastle City Council) v Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough Council [2008] EWHC 2639 (Admin)

A local authority (Berwick) issued taxi licences knowing that the applicants’ intention was to use their taxis in an area which was remote from its area. It was well known that certain private hire operators were using taxis licensed by Berwick to fulfil pre-booked hire contracts within Newcastle's area. As Newcastle was not the licensing authority it had no enforcement powers over the vehicles. Newcastle claimed a declaration that Berwick had unlawfully granted hackney carriage licences to proprietors where it had not been satisfied that the vehicles in question, if licensed, would ply for hire in the area of Berwick. The High Court made declarations confirming that Berwick should take into account the intentions of the private hire operators.

Control on number of taxi licences in the area of a local authority

Each vehicle used as a taxi requires a licence (sometimes called a “plate”). A local authority may limit the total number of licences but only if it is satisfied that there is no unmet demand for taxis in its area (Transport Act 1985 s.16 affecting Town Police Clauses Act 1847 s.37).

Legaleze comment: we understand that less than 45% of councils in England and Wales now impose a limit on taxi vehicle licences.

Case law: below are two examples of decided cases on the question of the limit on taxi licences:

R v Great Yarmouth Borough Council ex parte Sawyer (1987) [1989] LTR 297: Great Yarmouth Borough Council exercised a policy to restrict total taxi vehicle licences prior to 1986. It rescinded that policy and adopted in its place a policy with no ceiling to the number of licences forces to take their course. A taxi driver challenged the policy in court. The court acknowledged that individual taxi drivers might suffer material hardship as a result of the change of policy. However the court held that the council was entitled to adopt such a policy whether or not there was unmet demand, and the court could not intervene in the decision on the grounds of the individual hardship of individual taxi drivers .

* R (on the application of Mark Ian Royden) v Metropolitan Borough of Wirral [2002] EWHC 2484 (Admin): A taxi licence holder in the borough of the Wirral challenged the council’s decision to end the policy of limiting the issue of taxi licence plates. It was acknowledged that one plate had an estimated value of £15,000 due to the scarcity value. However the court held there was no right of property in the licence and there was no right to prevent council to end its policy of limiting the amount of licences issued.

What's new items [see What's new page or archive for full item]:

27/04/2018: Institute of Licensing launches guidance on suitability of licensees in hackney and private hire trades

The Institute of Licensing (IoL) has published guidance to assist local authorities making decisions about the suitability of applicants and licensees in relation to taxi and private hire driver, vehicle and operator licences. The guidance aims to ‘raise standards and consistency’ in the absence of law, and to provide better safeguards for passengers.

01/06/2012: Shanks & Ors (t/a Blue Line Taxis), R (application of) v Northumberland CC
[2012] EWHC 1539 (Admin)

This case raises an interesting point concerning the powers of a local authority to impose conditions on the grant of a hackney carriage (i.e. a taxi) licence under section 37 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847). It raises the question of the relationship between that statutory provision and section 47 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976.

Right of Driver of licensed hackney carriage to drive out of district

A driver of a licensed taxi may not be convicted of the offence of driving an unlicensed private hire vehicle. However, such a driver commits an offence if he 'plies for hire' in a district for which he is not licensed: Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council v Fidler and others [2010] EWHC 2430 (Admin)

Definitions of “taxi” etc.; meaning of "plying for hire"

The definition of a taxi is still contained in the [archaic] terms of the 1847 Act which refers to a “hackney carriage” which means every “wheeled carriage” [sic] used in “standing or plying for hire” in any street within the prescribed [i.e. by the local authority] distance, and every carriage standing upon any street within the prescribed [ditto] distance.

Private hire vehicles (PHVs) are not permitted to 'ply for hire' and the legal meaning of this term is considered in relation to PHVs below.

Duties of taxi driver

The legislation imposes certain duties on licensed taxi drivers including the following:

* when the taxi is standing at an appointed stand or in any street, not to refuse without reasonable excuse to drive to any place to which he is directed to drive by a hirer or intending hirer, including private property with vehicle access for carriages, within the district, or within any shorter distance which the council has fixed by byelaw (Town Police Clauses Act 1847 s 53);

* not to refuse to carry the full complement of passengers if required to do so by the hirer (ibid. s.52);

* not to permit any third party to be carried in the taxi during the period of hire without the hirer’s express consent (ibid. s.59).

Case law: “express consent” of the hirer means just that; mere acquiescence is not sufficient (Yates v Gates [1970] 2 QB 27, [1970] 1 All ER 754, DC)

Guide dogs and disabled access

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 s.37 imposes a duty on taxi drivers to carry an assistance dog, without additional charge, when it accompanies a disabled person. It also provides that a taxi driver may be exempted from this obligation on medical grounds.

The Equality Act 2010 Part 12 contains provisions about disabled persons and access to taxis which have not yet been brought into force.

London and other local legislation regulating taxis

Local legislation may apply to the regulation of hackney carriages or taxis in a particular locality.The licensing authority has power to make byelaws to set fares and make other regulations relating to taxi stands, standards of vehicles, number of passengers and other matters.

In London, archaic and complicated legislation regulates London cabs, i.e. taxis or hackney carriages. Read more on London taxis.

See also: TfL pages on licences for taxis and private hire vehicles in London

London and local legislation What's new items:

18/03/2014: Bristol taxi drivers lose appeal on station permit scheme

Jones and another v First Greater Western Ltd

The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal by Bristol taxi drivers in this action. The core issue in this case was whether the defendant, First Greater Western Limited ("FGW"), as the private lessee and station franchise operator of railway premises at Bristol Temple Meads ("BTM"), within which were located licensed Hackney Carriage (“taxi”) stands fixed by local byelaws ("the taxi byelaws"), was lawfully entitled to introduce and enforce a permit scheme.
See: What’s new item on this topic [see What’s new page or archive for full item]:
21/08/2013: Bristol taxi drivers lose action on station permit scheme

30/11/2013: Court of Appeal refers state aid issue to ECJ in Addison Lee bus lane case
Eventech Ltd, a company associated with Addison Lee, is pursuing an appeal to the Court of Appeal from the High Court decision against it in the 'taxis v minicabs in bus lanes' case (see: 11/07/2012: Eventech Ltd v The Parking Adjudicator 2012] EWHC 1903 (Admin))
The Court of Appeal has referred one of the points raised by Eventech in the case for a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). This issue is whether the policy of making a bus lane on a public road available to Black Cabs but not minicabs, during the hours of operation of that bus lane, involve the use of "State resources" within the meaning of Article 107(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

Private hire vehicles

A licence under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 is required:

* to operate a private hire vehicle (“PHV”) in a controlled district;

* for a proprietor to use or permit a vehicle (which is not a licensed taxi or London cab) to be used as a PHV in a controlled district;

* to act as driver of any PHV in controlled district .

It is an offence to carry out such acts without a licence. It also an offence for a PHV operator to operate a PHV if the driver or the vehicle is not licensed, and for a PHV proprietor to employ a driver of a PHV for a hiring who does not have a licence.

Tacit consent: it appears that the authorities consider that tacit consent does not apply although at least some Scottish authorities do apply tacit consent.

There is a right of appeal from refusal of a licence to the magistrates court.

Definition of PHV and “operate”

A “private hire vehicle” means a motor vehicle constructed or adapted to seat fewer than nine passengers, other than a hackney carriage [i.e. a licensed taxi] or public service vehicle or a London cab or tramcar which is provided for hire with the services of a driver for the purpose of carrying passengers.

“Operate” means in the course of business to make provision for the invitation or acceptance of bookings for a private hire vehicle.

[Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 s.80]

A vehicle may be licensed as a public service vehicle (PSV) even if it has seating for less than nine passengers. Most PSVs are operated as coaches or buses; however some PSV operators operate minibuses which are licensed as PSVs. In the case of a PSV, separate fares must be offered to the passengers.

Limousine services: some limousines may fall within the PSV definition.

Cost shared journeys: comment:it will be a question of fact a person is operating or driving a PHV and so requires a licence. If the journeys are pre-aranged and occasional, and a charge is made merely to recover costs, that is unlikely to amount to operating or driving a PHV. There is no specific exception in the PHV legislation for such use, but if this question were to arise, in our view a court would take into account ther exception which applies in the case of  a public service vehicle not adapted to carry more than 8 passengers: a journey made by a vehicle in the course of which one or more passengers are carried at separate fares is not treated as made in the course of a business of carrying passengers if two conditions are met:
(a) the fare or the aggregate of the fares paid in respect of the journey does not exceed the amount of the running costs of the vehicle for the journey; and
(b) the arrangements for the payment of the fares by the passenger or passengers so carried were made before the journey began
[Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 s 1(4)]


For further information on the meaning of Private Hire Vehicle and to “operate” a PHV, see the Department for Transport guidance on Private Hire Vehicle Licensing

Private hire contract

The hiring of a PHV is a contract but it is deemed to be made between the customer and the operator (Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 s.56(1)). Therefore contractually the PHV driver is obliged to charge any fare quoted by the operator and agreed by the customer in advance. The operator must keep a record of each booking, as set out in the licence conditions imposed by the licensing authority (ibid. s.56(2)).

Acts permitted by a PHV licence

An operator licensed in a district commits no offence by accepting telephone bookings made by persons calling from outside the district nor by placing advertisements in publications circulating outside the district ( Windsor and Maidenhead Royal Borough Council v Khan [1994] RTR 87, DC)

Plying for hire

A PHV licence by definition does not permit the operator or driver to 'ply for hire' like a taxi. There is a body of case law involving operators and drivers of unlicensed taxis which were charged with the offence of standing or plying for hire.

Examples of cases of ‘plying for hire’:

* Cars standing outside an office which displays a 'cars for hire' sign are plying for hire [Gilbert v McKay [1946] 1 All ER 458];

* Vehicles bearing an advertisement containing the words 'Mini cab' and having equipment in the form of radio communication may be plying for hire [Rose v Welbeck Motors Ltd [1962] 2 All ER 801];

* Driver is plying for hire in the street if his vehicle is positioned in circumstances such that the offer of services is “projected to and addressed to” members of the public in the street [Eastbourne Borough Council v Stirling & Anor [2000] EWHC Admin 410 (31 October 2000)]

Not plying for hire

* A cab is not plying for hire when cruising while displaying a 'for hire' sign unless the driver stops when hailed [Hunt v Morgan [1948] 2 All ER 1065];

* Cars not exhibited as available for hire are not plying for hire [Cogley v Sherwood  [1959] 2 All ER 313]

Roof signs

A PHV which is not a licensed taxi may not display on or above its roof, any sign which consists of or includes the word “taxi” or “cab”, whether in the singular or plural, or “hire”, or any similar word.

What’s new item on the topic of PHV regulation [see What’s new page or archive for full item]:

27/09/2012: Blue Line taxis loses licensing appeal
Blue Line Taxis has lost its High Court appeal against a District Judge’s ruling. The High Court ruled that Newcastle Council was entitled to require Blue Line Taxis, as a condition of its private hire operator’s licence, to maintain an independent operation in Newcastle by the installation of a dedicated telephone line to the Newcastle office with its own unique telephone number.

London area

Separate legislation applies to regulate PHVs for the London metropolitan police district and the City of London; see London taxi and PHV regulation

Legislation common to taxis and private hire vehicles

For further information on the subject of taxi and PHV licensing, see the Department of Transport guidance

For detailed information on taxi and PHV licensing in London, see the Transport for London information on taxis and private hire.

Law reform

The Law Commission carried out a major consultation on reform of taxi and private hire services regulation. The consultation closed on 10 September 2012. The Commission published its report published its final report and draft Bill on 23 May 2014. The Commission observed that "The piecemeal evolution of the regulation of taxi and private hire services has, moreover, resulted in a complex and fragmented licensing system".

Government of Wales Act 2006: The Law Commission's view is that legislative competence in respect of the regulation of taxis and private hire vehicles was devolved under the
Government of Wales Act 2006. However, Welsh Ministers consider the legal position to be too unclear to support that conclusion.The Law Commission have therefore proceeded for the purposes of their report on the basis that legislative competence in respect of the regulation of taxis and private hire vehicles is not devolved and that the relevant functions will be exercised by the Secretary of State in relation to all of England and Wales.

The Law Commission propose to reform the legislation so that it will cover both taxis and PHVs for the whole of England and Wales. It would retain the retain the distinction between taxis and PHVs but base the distinction on the requirement for pre-booking rather than the elusive concept of 'plying for hire'.


Civil enforcement: licensing authorities have powers to suspend and revoke licences in certain circumstances.

Criminal enforcement: depending on the exact offence committed, the penalty on conviction may be a fine up to level 3 on the standard scale. For offences committed by a company, there is directors’ criminal liability.


Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland the licensing regime formerly applied to all ‘public service vehicles’, which includes buses. There were two main types of licence in the taxi and private hire sector: a public hire taxi licence; and a private hire taxi licence. A public hire taxi was permitted to ply for hire in the same way as a licensed taxi in the rest of the UK. A private hire taxi offered the same services as a PHV in the rest of the UK.

The NI Executive announced far-reaching reforms of taxi and private hire regulation in June 2014. New regulations have been made which implement reforms to the NI taxi industry. They introduce a new classification system based on the manner in which a taxi is operated, and a range of conditions for each class of taxi licence with which the owner will be expected to comply with.

The Taxis (2008 Act) (Commencement No.4) Order (Northern Ireland) 2014 SR 2014/300 brought into force on 9 December 2014, 1 June 2015, and 29 June 2015 provisions relating to making regulations, making an application for a taxi licences and all other purposes under the Taxis Act (Northern Ireland) 2008. Other provisions of the TA (NI) 2008 had already been brought into force by previous commencement orders.

The Taxi Operators Licensing (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 (SR 2014/303) introduce, from 29 June 2015, a new requirement for additional information to be carried in a taxi providing a tour service. The additional information shall be recorded on a ‘journey form’, which must be carried in the vehicle throughout the period of the journey.

The Taxi Licensing Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 (SR 2014 No. 302) provide for the testing and licensing of taxis in Northern Ireland. y.

Comment: in contrast to the rest of the UK, the distinction between hackney carriages or public hire taxis on the one hand and private hire cars has been abolished in NI. Within the Belfast district, all taxis whether public hire or private hire are permitted to ply for hire (i.e. respond to hailing in the street) but only wheelchair accessible vehicles will be permitted to stand at taxi ranks. All taxis must have an approved taxi meter and receipt machine installed.

For further information, see nidirect pages.

What's new

Taxi Licensing (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2018 [SR 2018/90]

Amendments are made to legislation to give effect to the relevant requirements of Directive 2014/45/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 April 2014 on periodic road worthiness tests for motor vehicles and their trailers. The Regulations will come into force on 20 May 2018.

Taxi Licensing Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015, SR 2015/393, amended to:

• prescribe a limit on the time allowed for retesting following an initial test failure

• include front fog lamps, reversing lamps and daytime running lamps as items to be inspected


Operators of taxis and private hire cars require a licence from the local authority (Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982). A licence is also required for the use of premises for the carrying on of a business which consists to any extent of the taking of bookings, by any means of communication, from members of the public for the hire of a relevant vehicle (unless bookings for not more than three vehicles are taken at any one time) (The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 (Licensing of Booking Offices) Order 2009).

Tacit consent: it appears that at least some Scottish authorities do apply tacit consent.

“Taxi” means a hire car which is engaged, by arrangements made in a public place between the person to be conveyed in it (or a person acting on his behalf) and its driver for a journey beginning there and then.

“Private hire car” means a hire car other than a taxi within the meaning of this subsection; “hire car” means a motor vehicle with a driver (other than a vehicle being a public service vehicle within the meaning of section 1(1)(a) of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981) which is, with a view to profit, available for hire by the public for personal conveyance.

For further information, see the Scottish government guidance on taxi licensing and enquire of the local authority.

[Page updated: 30/04/2018]

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