HUNDREDS of taxi drivers are set to get a windfall because of a £210,000 council blunder.
For nine years council chiefs failed to advertise increases in taxi licensing fees. Now, to avoid legal action, they will refund the cash equivalent of the rises paid by private hire and hackney drivers.
A probe into the mistake has been launched by Hyndburn Council, sparking a number of disciplinary investigations into council staff.
The authority said it had also taken action to prevent a similar mix-up occurring again.
The mistake, which could see some drivers being paid back up to £400, is said to have come to light due to a legal challenge made to the authority.
Hyndburn Council leader Miles Parkinson said the blame began in 2004 with the council’s previous Conservative administration.
He said: “Before 2004, these ads had always been published, but when Peter Britcliffe became leader that all stopped. Since this issue came to our attention in 2011 we have investigated our liabilities thoroughly.
“We have come to the conclusion that we must refund these amounts to avoid legal challenges.”
Hyndburn’s Labour MP Graham Jones also said the issue was a historical one.
He said: “It is just typical of the last Conservative administration. They just decided not to bother with these ads. It seems that every month a blunder from the past is being uncovered.”
However opposition leader Mr Britcliffe called for a through disciplinary investigations of the officers involved.
He said: “Considering the council have been looking into this since 2011, I am stunned that I am only hering about it now. I find it amazing I have not been spoken to about this and was only informed by the Lancashire Telegraph.
“The responsibility lies with officers and I would hope that a thorough investigation takes place into why they did not alert councillors.”
Drivers in Union Street, Accrington, yesterday said they were angry at the mistake and they did not feel they were being supported by the council.
Hackney driver Ash Mahmood, 45, said: “It is only fair they pay us back. We have no business left anyway and we are not making very much money.
“It is very, very hard to make a living. The payback won’t be much each but it will make things a bit easier.”
Fellow Hackney driver Mohammed Shabir, 55, said: “When we give our fee to the council, they should be spending it on helping us, but they do nothing.
“We have all been really affected because private firms have dropped their prices and the council says we have to charge a minimum of £3 at night, so we really lose out.
“So it is right that they should give us this money back.”
The council have powers to charge non profit taxi licensing fees under the 1976 Local Government Act.
However the council must give 28 days notice in a local newspaper, inviting objections. If the rules are not followed, the amount charged does not take legal effect and the fee is repayable.
The money is used to pay for vehicle inspections, providing hackney stands and administration costs.
Refunds will be made for the past six years, the statutory limitation period for such sums through the courts.
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