THE LONDON private hire trade has hit out at the “farcical” Transport for London (TfL) regulation that will force drivers to prove their English language skills.
British-born minicab drivers without evidence of a secondary school-level qualification will lose their TfL licence unless they pay £180 for a written essay and speaking test qualification.
TfL say the English language test, part of Sadiq Khan’s Taxi & Private Hire Action Plan, is “essential for public policy” but private hire operators and drivers say the rule is, “insulting” and “is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
WHAT? WHEN? HOW? – The driving force for a new English language test for private hire drivers in the capital came from former London mayor Boris Johnson in March 2015.
Responding to pressure over Uber, Mr Johnson said: “I don’t think we can have a situation in which minicab drivers should be able to drive around and take fares without being able to speak English properly. I have asked TfL to bring forward regulations to require a certain basic knowledge of English for all minicab drivers.”
The proposal became part of Transport for London’s Private Hire Regulations Review – launched in September 2015 and was approved by the TfL Board in March 2016 – and stated: “Private hire drivers should be able to demonstrate a certain standard of English”.
UBER TO BLAME? – TfL published Notice 10 / 16 in June 2016, and confirmed that new and existing drivers from a “majority English speaking country” (England, USA, Australia etc) would not have to take any English language test.
But, this position was reversed after Uber threatened to demand a High Court review. In September 2016, the American booking app launched a legal challenge against TfL’s English language test plans, alleging that drivers not born in England, America etc were being discriminated against.
The licensing authority, as is often the case when threatened with a day at the High Court, threw in the towel at once and in Notice 14 / 16 – Changes to Private Hire Regulation Update (published in October) said: “In Notice 10 / 16 we stated that the English language requirement will not apply to people who are from a majority English speaking country. It is no longer our intention to proceed with this intention.”
PHV DRIVER OPINION – Shepherd’s Bush minicab driver Trevor Bedwell took the test recently and said: “I had to write an essay on snow and a magazine article on how to eat a healthy diet.”
The 52 year old was told by TfL to take the English language test or show a GCSE-level qualification and had to take half a day off work to sit the exam.
Mr Bedwell said:
They’re discriminating against me for not doing very well at school. Maybe my grammar is not quite right, but I can get around London really well. I have lived my whole life in London and the only language I speak is English.
“I have suffered this humiliation because I need a licence to work, which I have done since 1992 in the private hire industry. I still am not aware of what they require on the written test as I had to write an essay on snow and a magazine article on healthy living.”
Edgware private hire driver Simon Klass said he and his PHV colleagues were livid and added: “It makes no sense. It’s an insult. First of all they have a test and second, they charge us for it. It makes no sense at all. I can understand people who are not native to this country, but I have got by for the last 47 years.”
TFL LANGUAGE TEST GUIDANCE – In October, the new English language requirement for all private hire drivers was introduced by TfL. Anyone applying for a new or renewal licence on or after 14 October has until 31 March 2017 to satisfy TfL that they meet the new requirement.
From 1 April 2017, all applicants must provide evidence they meet the English language requirement as part of their application before a licence is issued.
Applicants must now meet this requirement by providing either:
(1) A certificate from a TfL appointed test provider confirming that their English language is at level B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)
(2) Evidence of a qualification that satisfies their proficiency in English is equivalent to the level B1 on the CEFR. For example, a UK qualification that has been taught or examined in English, such as GCSE at grades A to G or equivalent.
EXAMPLES OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE EVIDENCE ACCEPTED BY TFL
(1) SELT FOR IMMIGRATION / VISA PURPOSES – Secure English Language Tests (SELT) are required by the Home Office for many categories of British visa. TfL will consider a certificate from a provider of SELT as documentary evidence provided that the test has been completed in reading, writing, speaking and listening. Applicants will need to produce a certificate from one of TfL’s secure English language test providers.
(2) (2) APPLICANTS WITH A UK QUALIFICATION WHICH HAS BEEN TAUGHT AND EXAMINED IN ENGLISH – TfL will consider evidence of a qualification which has been taught and examined in English as evidence that the applicant meets the English language requirement. GCSEs at A to G are the closest certificate equivalent to B1 of the CEFR. Applicants are required to provide their original certificate of having obtained a UK qualification at the GCSE level or equivalent or above and TfL may require the applicant to provide a certified statement confirming their results from the relevant Ofqual Awarding Organisations (AOs).
(3) APPLICANTS WITH A NON-UK QUALIFICATION WHICH WAS TAUGHT AND EXAMINED IN ENGLISH – TfL will consider documentary evidence from applicants who have a non-UK qualification at the equivalent of GCSE level or above which was taught and examined in English. These applicants will need to provide TfL with their original certificate.
(4) APPLICANTS WHO HAVE A QUALIFICATION IN ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE OR AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE – TfL will consider documentary evidence that an applicant has attained a qualification in English as a Second Language (ESOL) or English as a Foreign Language (EFL) where it provides a B1 level of proficiency in speaking, listening, reading and writing English.
STOP PRESS – TRADE DEMO – TfL’s English language test for PHV drivers and Sadiq Khan’s pro-taxi ‘Action Plan’ has united the London minicab trade like nothing before and has led to the GMB proposing a united protest demonstration against TfL’s unfair rules and regulations. Go along to City Hall on December 8 at 11 o’clock and make your voice heard.