A host of taxi and private hire industry firms and representatives are set to battle it out in court today in a case which could have a lasting impact on ride-hailing ‘plying-for-hire’ and employment law in the sector.
The case is being heard at the High Court today starting at 10.30am before Lord Justice Males and Mr Justice Fraser. The hearing is expected to last for three days.
Claimants in the case include 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).
The ADCU and UTAG are acting as a defendant 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 has launched this new High Court action after in obiter comments made by Lord Leggatt in the Supreme Court ruling suggested that Uber was not only in violation of employment law but might be in violation of transport law also.
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 has asked the court to make the opposite declaration so that passengers must contract directly with Uber rather than drivers. TfL is taking a neutral position.
Yaseen Aslam, ADCU President and lead claimant in Aslam v Uber at the Supreme Court, said: “It is outrageous for Uber to launch this brazen legal action to undermine the Supreme Court ruling in favour of their own drivers. Instead of reforming their business model, Uber is doubling down on misclassification at the expense of passengers, drivers, and the Treasury.
“I thought the Supreme Court ruling was the end of the matter but just months later we are being forced back to court to defend this landmark ruling from Uber’s army of slick corporate lawyers who are determined to strip us of our rights. Uber told the world it had turned over a new leaf but this case proves that, despite the PR hype, Uber is still unwilling and unable to change its ways.”