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PLYING-FOR-HIRE: Taxi industry to learn outcome of key High Court hearing on Monday

The taxi and private hire industry are set to find out the outcome of a key High Court decision on Monday which could potentially pave the way on ride-hailing ‘plying-for-hire’ and employment law in the sector.

The case, which was heard at the High Court on 23 November before Lord Justice Males and Mr Justice Fraser, has been seen as the first steps in trying to define the practice of ‘plying-for-hire’.

Claimants in the case included Uber London Limited with Free Now acting as intervener in support of the Claimant. Defendants are the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU), Transport for London (TfL) and United Trade Action Group (UTAG).

Along with the issue of ply-for-hire, most notable focusing on the distinction between a digital and street hail, there are also key points focusing on workers' rights.

The ADCU and UTAG acted as defendants in the High Court with Uber seeking declaratory relief that its contract model is not in violation of transport regulations administered by transport regulators TfL.

Uber launched this new High Court action after in obiter comments made by Lord Leggatt in the Supreme Court ruling suggested the ride-hailing firm was in violation of employment and transport laws.

At the heart of the dispute is the issue of Uber’s business model which sees drivers and passengers contracting directly together while Uber purports only to be an agent acting for the driver.

According to ADCU, by acting as an agent Uber are able to avoid its employment and VAT tax obligations. By classifying themselves as a tech company acting as a booking agent rather than the transport operator, Uber are believed to have avoided paying out more than £2billion in VAT.

However, under the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998, Uber must accept bookings from passengers, and it is a criminal offence for drivers to do so. In the Supreme Court ruling, Lord Leggatt questioned if it could be legal for Uber to accept a booking on behalf of a driver acting as the driver’s agent.

Private hire operator Uber is now seeking a declaration that it is legal for Uber to accept bookings on behalf of drivers. The ADCU asked the court to make the opposite declaration so that passengers must contract directly with Uber rather than drivers. TfL took a neutral position.

The decision of this hearing will be announced at 10.30am Monday 6 December 2021.

Trevor Merrells, UTAG Director and UCG Chairperson, shared the dates for the decision on social media saying: “It’s easy to sit back and be critical, let’s never forget only UTAG defended the Taxi Trades interest in the UBER Part 8.

“Only UTAG Judiciary Reviewed TfL’s decision to license Kaptan.

“None of the above would have been possible without your support.”

In a series of posts, an ADCU spokesperson said via social media: “High Court decision to be hand down on Monday to determine if we have been successful or not in resisting Uber and Freenow legal bid to preserve its dodgy contract model which exploits workers and cheats consumers.

“The stakes could not be higher!”

The ADCU added: “If we lose, expect Uber et al to escalate defiance and divergence from the Supreme Court ruling. Apps will delink worker rights from transport licensing obligations and HMRC can say goodbye to the VAT.

“BUT these are worst case loss scenarios and we'll fight this come what may.

“IF we win: Uber's request will be denied. We have asked instead for the court to declare the opposite - that it is illegal for any operator to accept a booking without entering into a contract for transport with the passenger which is what has happened since 1998.

“If we win and if the court agrees to our proposal, it would force the entire industry to completely change their business model and re write their terms and conditions. No more misclassification to dump risk on drivers and leave passengers exposed. BUT this is still a big IF.”


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