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The laws behind BILKING and what taxi drivers can do to prevent it from happening

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

Bilking happens in multiple industries and is where a person runs off before they’ve paid for goods and/or services. This includes diners not paying their restaurant bill, motorists driving off without settling fuel pump bills and of course taxi passengers not paying for their fare.

Sadly some passengers have no intention of paying the taxi driver for his or her services when they enter the cab.

It’s hugely frustrating for taxi drivers when this happens. The cabbie will not only be left out of pocket on the money owed on the fare, but they’ve also lost time within their shift to make the money they need and would have had to cover the costs of fuel and the vehicle for the bogus trip.

Bilking is a big issue. There are also huge safety risks attached to being bilked. Do drivers get out of the taxi to look for their bilker? Is it a trap to lure the cabbie out of the vehicle?

Is it a criminal offence to fail to pay a fare?

According to PC Patrick Quinton, who specialises in taxi and private hire vehicle enforcement in Bristol and South Gloucestershire, it depends on the circumstances whether the non-payer has committed a criminal offence. There are 3 pieces of law that cover this:

When someone runs off - Section 3 Theft Act 1978 “a person who, knowing that payment on the spot for any good supplied or a service received is required or expected from him, dishonestly makes off without having paid as required or expected and with intent to avoid payment of the amount due shall be guilty of an offence”

If someone pretends they will pay “going to a cash machine” “my friend will pay when we get there” – Section 2 Fraud Act 2006 “if he dishonestly makes a false representation, and intends by making the false representation to... cause loss to another or to expose another to risk of loss” ~ note that a representation is false if a person knows it is, or might be, untrue or misleading.

When someone else is involved, orders a cab for someone else – Section 11 Fraud Act 2006 “if he obtains services for himself or another by a dishonest act... intends that payment will not be made, or will not be made in full”.

PC Quinton highlights that the common theme is that there has to be intent and dishonesty.

Genuine mistakes or misunderstandings are not dishonest, such as confusion over who is paying.

Dissatisfaction with the service offered or a disagreement about the price may mean it’s not a crime either. It only covers the fare, so any extras such as soiling charges aren’t covered. At Court it has to be proven that the person was dishonest beyond reasonable doubt and that they intended to avoid payment.

Crucially... no dishonesty means no crime.

How do you report Bilking?

It is important these incidents are reported in the correct way. If the taxi driver feels threatened and the crime is still in progress, or if the suspect is close by, then drivers are urged to call 999.

If the passenger is long gone and faster than an Olympic sprinter, then cabbies should still report the incident. According to PC Quinton it is important to show how often these incidents happen, and trends can be spotted to identify repeat offenders.

Taxi drivers can either report the crime online, to their local police service or by calling 101.

What will the police do?

Police officers will assess the information provided and decide if a crime has been committed. If they believe there is no crime the police may pass the passengers’ details onto the driver so that a civil claim can be made.

The police will also consider if it is proportionate and in the public interest to investigate further. For example, for a £5 fare the police would record it as a crime, but if there were no additional factors they might take no further action because of the value.

What happens next to the Bilking suspect?

If the police identify a suspect, they may be required to make a statement about what happened during the reported incident. If officers can’t locate a suspect or the suspect denies it and there isn’t enough evidence, the matter is likely to be filed.

If the suspect admits the offence and has not been in much trouble before they may be handed a Conditional Caution. This is a criminal record and they may have to also pay the driver the fare due.

If the suspect denies it and there is sufficient evidence then they may have to go to Court and the driver may need to give their evidence to the Magistrates.

For those runners convicted in a Magistrates’ Court, they are open to be fined. There’s also the possibility of them being jailed for up to six months. If they are convicted in a Crown Court, or sent to the Crown Court for sentencing by the Magistrates’ Court, they could then be looking at a prison term of up to two years, plus a hefty fine.

What are local authorities and the industry doing to reduce the risk of Bilking?

Licensing officers at North East Lincolnshire Council have recently been forced to warn those using taxis that cabbies may ask for payment up front after a spike in reported incidents of passengers not paying their fares.

The Council’s licensing team has advised more drivers to ask for their fees upfront due to the number of reports. Drivers are entitled to request the fee upfront, but many choose not to, instead charging their passengers once they arrive at their destination.

Officials say taxi drivers opting to charge customers upfront are still required to display a meter and any outstanding balance should be paid to the driver or back to the passenger as appropriate.

There has also been talk about the possibility of introducing a “NO RIDE LIST”, similar to what we see within the aviation industry with their “NO FLY LIST”.

Steve Garelick, GMB Regional Organiser, spoke to TaxiPoint last month about the possibility of such a list to help mitigate the risks faced by taxi and private hire drivers.

Garelick said: “We are all accustomed to seeing the signage ‘We Will Not Tolerate Abuse Towards Our Staff’ in hospitals, doctor’s surgeries and retailers, amongst other locations, so why is it that some individuals believe they can act with impunity towards those providing their personal transportation?”

In some cities, taxi drivers are well connected via online forums, WhatsApp groups and on social media. In these groups it’s more than likely drivers would notify others of Bilking experience to warn colleagues.

Should cabbies be worried about Bilking and what top tips are there?

It’s never nice when it does happen, but luckily it doesn’t happen on a regular basis. Most of the general public are law abiding people who’ll pay the fare as expected. If you’re a cabbie that does find themselves in an unfortunate position, here’s some top tips from PC Patrick Quinton:

  • Getting home safe to your family is more important than a fare. Remain professional. Be calm and avoid strong or threatening language.

  • Avoid following or detaining suspects. Although legally you can arrest the suspect using reasonable force, it could make you unsafe or open to civil action. It’s usually best to avoid doing this – especially for a small amount of money. That includes locking the suspect in your vehicle or taking them to a police station.

  • You are quite entitled to ask for a surety for the fare, such as a driving licence, passport or mobile phone.

  • If there is a problem, make sure you know how to quickly start recording on your phone or dashcam if safe to do so. Try to get the person to say how much they owe you on the recording.

  • Provide a way of paying by phone or card.

  • Remember descriptions and anything said that may identify the suspect later - particularly if you are a Hackney Carriage driver.

  • If you are a private hire driver, tell the police who your operator is and the job or booking reference for the journey.

  • When a suspect is due to pay compensation to you as part of a Conditional Caution or Community Resolution and the police ask you for a cost, don’t forget to include your time making a statement as well as the fare.

  • If you have to call 999, the first thing they will want to know is your location. Be prepared to give an accurate location – you could use What3Words, a postcode or a road name.


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