A momentous judgement for private hire vehicle drivers in London

The High Court today handed down judgement in the case of Uber London Limited v 1) Transport for London (2) United Trade Action Group Limited and (3) App Drivers and Couriers Union, Case No: CO/3046/2021.

The Court rejected Uber’s application for a declaration that the Private Hire Vehicles Act 1998 does not require a private hire vehicle operator (such as Uber) to contract, as principal, with its passengers and instead granted the opposite declaration, that the Act does require operators to contract directly with their passengers. This will apply not only to Uber, but to all other private hire vehicle operators in London, including Free Now, and should transform the private hire industry.

This case follows hot on the heels of the Supreme Court decision given earlier this year in the case of Uber v Aslam. In that case, the Court held that Uber’s purported operating model, of contracting with passengers only as the agent of its drivers, was a fiction and that Uber in fact employed its drivers as workers.

In this latest case Uber effectively argued that the 1998 Act did not prevent it from adopting an agency model of operation. By rejecting this, the High Court has confirmed that operators are primarily responsible for ensuring that private hire trips are carried out safely. All operators who currently purport to contract with passengers only as the agent of drivers will have to change their contractual arrangements to ensure that they comply with the Court’s ruling, and TfL are responsible for ensuring that this happens.

As a consequence of this decision, it is now very likely that all private hire vehicle drivers in London are properly to be regarded as employed by the operator (or operators) for whom they drive. This will mean that thousands more drivers are eligible for employment rights such as the right to minimum wage, to paid holiday and adequate rest breaks. In the long-term this should significantly enhance passenger safety.

Jason Galbraith-Marten QC was instructed by the App Drivers and Couriers Union.