East Herts taxi drivers having ‘sleepless nights’ because of a new English test they must pass to keep their jobs

Taxi drivers in East Hertfordshire say they feel ‘insulted and degraded’ after claiming the council told them they had to take an English proficiency test to renew their licence.

Drivers said the stress of having to take the recently introduced test has led to “sleepless nights”, fearing it could force some people out of the business.

East Hertfordshire District Council said the changes followed the introduction of new government guidelines aimed at maximizing public safety and that drivers had been consulted.

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However, the Local Democracy Reporting Service spoke to a number of drivers who were angry at the changes and said other authorities had not applied the guidelines as broadly.

To become a carriage driver or double driver, the candidate must pass an extensive DBS medical examination, a driving test and a knowledge test, as well as the new English proficiency test.

For experienced drivers, it’s a test too far, with one driver saying he couldn’t “sleep in the weeks” before his assessment.

“It just seems a bit of a waste of time to me”

The driver, who has worked in the area for 35 years, added: “You hear people say ‘I’ve had sleepless nights’.

“I went through a few weeks just before I took the test where I just didn’t sleep and I’m like ‘well I was good enough 35 years ago to give myself a license and then everything suddenly, bring it”.

“If we told the [council officers] we want you out at 1pm and we’ll give you a car with no learning we want you to pick this side of Hertford and drive people home – that’s exactly what they asked us to do with an English Test – they couldn’t do it.

He added: “It’s nothing we have to do, we don’t have to write, we don’t have to use punctuation, we just have a nice chat with the customer if they want to talk.

“There’s no writing skills to do with it, it just seems a bit of a waste of time to me.”

The test includes sections on conversation comprehension, sentence completion and repetition, as well as having to retype a sentence exactly as they hear it within 25 seconds and type a passage from memory.

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The drivers, who asked to remain anonymous as they will need to renew their licenses with the council, raised particular concerns about the typing aspects of the test and said the delays added further stress.

Drivers can take the test anytime, and multiple times if needed, before their renewal date, but each attempt costs £50. Once the test is passed, it does not need to be repeated, and if someone has other qualifications, they are exempt.

However, for those who leave the test until a date close to their renewal, this could mean that they risk losing their license if they fail.

“The worst possible moment after two years of confinement”

Another driver said: ‘Why should a guy who’s worked at a taxi stand for 24 years suddenly turn up and say, ‘Sorry, I can’t do this because I can’t read or write’. How degrading is that? »

He said there was an ‘all taxi drivers do is drive drunk people at night for kebabs’ viewpoint, but added that he had his own contracts with schools and families as a regular driver thanks to his 30 years of experience.

He added that he often serves as the first point of contact to shield concerns or help people get to appointments – not all of which can be assessed by an online review.

Other drivers we spoke to said they found him ‘insulting and quite demeaning’, and said he was brought in at the ‘worst possible time’ after two years of lockdown.

Another driver who has worked for 33 years passed the test but said he did not think it was fair for the rules to be introduced retrospectively and called on the council to grant grandfather rights to experienced drivers.

He added: “Some of the guys I work with, they’re great taxi drivers, nice cars, nice guys and they don’t get complaints, but academically they worry about it because now [the council] want you to use keyboard skills.

“I wrote an email once and it was at the council about two weeks ago so my keyboarding skills are absolutely negative but I can change a spark plug on a Nissan Juke. They’re taking me out totally out of my comfort zone and telling me that if you don’t succeed you’re going to lose your livelihood – that sounds crazy.

What the board says

East Herts Council said the tests followed new government guidelines introduced in 2020 and the council had consulted drivers before any changes.

The council added that it would continue to speak to drivers about their concerns and offer financial, practical and emotional support.

Councilor Jan Goodeve (Conservator, Hertford Castle), Executive Member for Planning and Growth, said: “All local authorities across the country will have English proficiency tests in place or seek to introduce them.

“This follows the government’s introduction of new standards in 2020 to maximize public safety. A lack of basic language skills could mean that a driver cannot communicate fully with passengers or understand important written documents relating to the protection of children and vulnerable adults.

“Public consultation began in East Herts in December 2020, including information sent directly to over 300 drivers. As a direct result of this, we have changed our approach so that drivers who can show appropriate qualification demonstrating their English skills do not have to take the test.

“We continued to listen to drivers through meetings and one-on-one discussions, being attentive to their concerns. Our team provided a wide range of financial, practical and emotional support, acknowledging how difficult these two years have been.

“We’ve seen many drivers pass the test, including several who haven’t attended school or taken an exam for decades, people who don’t speak English as their first language, and people who are hard of hearing.

“We continue to urge anyone with concerns to contact us.”

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