The car-booking firm Uber joins forces with three of its drivers this week to launch a High Court challenge to English language tests for minicab drivers.
Under the proposals, put forward by Transport for London (TfL), private-hire drivers without UK qualifications will have to take a two-hour test to demonstrate their English language skills. Yet figures from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills show that 7 per cent of the entire UK population would likely fail the test. The requirement to write a short essay and an article makes the assessment more advanced than the current language requirements for British citizenship.
The plans have been condemned as discriminatory by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and the Runnymede Trust.
Uber's general manager in London, Tom Elvidge, said that the plans “threaten the livelihoods of thousands of drivers.” The three drivers joining the legal crusade on Tuesday are all people who the company says could be affected by the changes.
The test costs £180 to sit and is already available but not mandatory, pending Uber's legal action. If the judicial review is unsuccessful, the test will be compulsory from September of this year.
However Helen Chapman, TfL’s General Manager for Taxi and Private Hire said: “It is essential for public safety that all licensed drivers can communicate in English at an appropriate level. The ability of drivers to receive, understand and respond to written communications contributes to public safety and customer care. We are clear that this is crucial to a driver’s role in transporting the public.”
Elvidge commented: “We’ve always supported spoken English skills, but passing a written English exam has nothing to do with communicating with passengers or getting them safely from A to B. Transport for London should think again and scrap these unfair and unnecessary new rules.”
Uber has already given its drivers a free year-long subscription to Busuu, a language-learning app, which will help with passing the test if the changes do come into effect.