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THEFT OR CIVIL DISPUTE: Learn when police will and won’t get involved in taxi bilking disputes

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

The issue of when a taxi bilking incident should be treated as theft and when it becomes a civil matter has been one of debate amongst taxi drivers and the general public.

It has been revealed that the answer to this question is not straightforward, but can be distinguished through the factors involved in the incident.

Taxi bilking is the term used when a passenger fails to pay their fare. In such cases, the General Investigation Policy regulates the process of identifying the type of offense committed. Offenses relating to passengers who fail to pay their fares fall into two categories: making off without payment under Section 3 of the Theft Act 1978 or obtaining services dishonestly under Section 11 of the Fraud Act 2006.

According to the Metropolitan Police, it is not only about the act of not paying the fare, but also about the circumstances surrounding the incident. The police claim that incidents in which the person refuses to pay a taxi driver can fall into one of two categories: civil disputes or theft.

In cases of civil disputes, both parties have rights, and it should be encouraged that they exchange details and seek civil remedies. If a passenger has a genuine reason for non-payment or has a complaint about the route taken, then it becomes a civil matter. However, if a “bilker” refuses to give their details or gives false information, then they are committing an offense.

On the other hand, if a passenger makes off without paying, it becomes a theft case. The Met Police recommends that taxi drivers contact them if a passenger has committed theft in such instances.

It is important to note that a person who becomes sick in a taxi has not committed a criminal offense, and a taxi driver should treat it as a civil dispute. Police would not usually engage in such incidents, but if a passenger refuses to provide accurate details or gives a false address, then they are committing an offense.

In a Freedom of Information request a Met Police spokesperson distinguished theft and civil disputes by stating: “If a passenger refuses to pay the fare they commit an offence.

“However if they have a genuine reason for non-payment or a complaint about the route taken then this is a civil matter. Both parties have rights and they should be encouraged to exchange details and seek civil remedies.

“If someone has been sick in a taxi this is not a criminal offence and should be treated as a civil dispute. Police would not normally deploy to such incidents.

“However if a hirer refuses to provide their details or gives a false address they commit an offence.”


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