A PCO licence (Private Hire Driver Licence) is a certification required to operate as a private hire driver in the United Kingdom, particularly in London. The licence is issued by Transport for London (TfL) and is mandatory for drivers who want to work for private hire vehicle (PHV) companies such as Uber, Bolt, and Ola.
For your information, this licence is technically known as Private Hire Licence (PHL). But most people call it a PCO licence due to a reason. The term “PCO” is the abbreviation of Public Carriage Office, which was accountable for black taxis, and its name changed to TfL for Taxi and Private Hire unit. It means PCO and PHL stand for the same thing.
The PCO licence is valid for three years and requires the driver to maintain a good driving record and pass regular medical and background checks. It is important to note that a PCO licence is different from a taxi driver’s licence, which is required for drivers who operate traditional London black cabs.
Requirements for Obtaining PCO License
To obtain a PCO licence, you must meet the following requirements as an applicant:
- Age – must be at least 21 years old.
- Driving licence – must hold an EU or full UK driving licence for at least three years.
- English language – must be able to speak, read, and write in English to a sufficient standard.
- Background check – must undergo an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, including a criminal record check.
- Medical examination – must pass a medical examination conducted by a registered General Practitioner (GP).
- Topographical skills – must have a good knowledge of London’s streets, landmarks, and routes and has the necessary route-finding and map-reading skills.
- Good Communication – must have good English speaking, reading, and understanding skills.
Check and Tests Involved in PCO Licence
Obtaining a PCO licence involves three stages, checks, applying for the licence, and tests. The process begins with obtaining all the checks in the first place before applying for the licence on the TfL website. Once done with the checks, you apply for the licence and submit all the necessary tests. Here is the in-detailed overview of checks and tests.
To obtain a PCO licence (Private Hire Driver Licence) in London, the applicant must undergo a medical examination conducted by a registered General Practitioner (GP). The medical examination includes the following checks:
- General Health Check: it includes checking general health, including blood pressure, heart rate, and lung function.
- Eyesight Checks: checking the applicant’s eyesight to ensure it meets the minimum standards required for driving.
- Hearing Check: it includes checking hearing to ensure they can hear normal conversation levels.
- Diabetes Check: checking blood sugar levels to ensure they are within acceptable limits.
- Epilepsy Check: the GP will check the applicant’s history of epilepsy or seizures and assess whether it is safe for them to drive.
- Other Medical Conditions: any other medical conditions that may affect the applicant’s ability to drive safely are also tested.
The medical examination result/report must be submitted to TfL along with the PCO licence application. Suppose the applicant has any medical conditions that may affect their driving ability. In that case, they may be required to undergo further medical tests or provide additional medical evidence before their licence can be granted.
As part of the PCO testing process, a background check is conducted on the applicant to ensure they are a suitable candidate for a private hire driver licence. The background check includes:
- Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check to verify the applicant’s criminal record history.
- Right to work in the UK checks to ensure the applicant has the legal right to work in the UK.
- Previous taxi or private hire driving experience check to ensure the applicant has a suitable record of driving experience.
- Check for any disqualifications from driving, criminal convictions, or cautions that may make the applicant unsuitable for a private hire driver licence.
- Verify the applicant’s identity and address through documentation such as passports, driving licences, and utility bills.
The background check is an important part of the PCO testing process as it helps ensure passengers’ safety and security and maintains the reputation of the private hire industry.
Right to Work Check
The “Right to Work Check” is conducted on the applicant for the PCO testing process to ensure they have the legal right to work in the UK as a private hire driver. The Right to Work Check includes:
- Verification of the applicant’s identity and citizenship status through original documents such as passports or national identity cards.
- Confirmation of the applicant’s immigration status, including visas or work permits, to ensure they are allowed to work in the UK as a private hire driver.
- Verification of any restrictions or limitations on the applicant’s right to work in the UK, such as time limits on their visa or work permit.
- Checking the authenticity of the documents provided by the applicant to ensure they are genuine and belong to the applicant.
The Right to Work Check is an important part of the PCO testing process, as it helps to ensure that all private hire drivers are legally entitled to work in the UK and meet the necessary immigration requirements.
Speaking and Listening Test
The Speaking and Listening Test is an English language test required as part of the PCO (Private Hire Driver) licensing process. The test ensures drivers can communicate effectively with passengers and understand instructions or requests.
The Speaking and Listening Test is conducted by an approved testing centre and is usually taken in person. The test assesses the applicant’s ability to:
- Understand and respond appropriately to spoken instructions and requests.
- Use spoken English to communicate effectively with passengers and other drivers.
- Understand and use everyday English vocabulary and phrases commonly used in the private hire industry.
The test usually lasts around 15 minutes and consists of spoken tasks and questions. The applicant must achieve a minimum score to pass the test and be eligible for a PCO licence.
Safety, Equality and Regulatory Understanding (SERU)
The SERU course is usually delivered through a combination of online and in-person training sessions, and drivers must complete the course within a set timeframe to maintain their PCO licence.
The SERU course covers a wide range of topics, including:
- Passenger Safety: This includes understanding how to keep passengers safe while driving, responding to emergencies, and dealing with difficult or disruptive passengers.
- Equality and Diversity: This includes understanding the importance of treating all passengers fairly and equally, regardless of their background or circumstances.
- Licensing and Regulations: This includes understanding the rules and regulations that govern the private hire industry and the requirements for obtaining and maintaining a PCO licence.
Topographical Skills Test
Topographical Skills Test is designed to ensure that drivers understand London’s streets, routes, and landmarks well and can navigate effectively without relying solely on GPS navigation.
The Topographical Skills Test typically includes the following components:
- Map Reading: This includes understanding how to read and interpret maps, including street and transport maps.
- Route Planning: This includes understanding how to plan efficient routes, considering traffic, road closures, and diversions.
- Navigation: This includes understanding how to navigate London’s streets and landmarks, including using major road signs and landmarks to orientate oneself.
- Hazard Perception: This includes understanding how to anticipate and respond to potential hazards on the road, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles.
The Topographical Skills Test is usually taken personally at an approved testing centre. Drivers must achieve a minimum score to pass the test and be eligible for a PCO licence.
How to Apply for PCO Licence?
To apply for a PCO licence (Private Hire Driver Licence) in London, you need to follow these steps:
- Meet the Eligibility Requirements: Ensure you meet the eligibility criteria mentioned above, such as age, driving licence, English language, medical examination, background check, topographical skills, vehicle compliance, and completion of TfL-approved training.
- Apply for a PCO Licence Online: Visit the TfL website and create an online account. You can then apply for a PCO licence through the online application form. You must upload supporting documents, such as your driving licence, passport, DBS check, medical report, and topographical skills certificate.
- Attend an Appointment with TfL: After submitting your application, you will be invited to attend an appointment with TfL to provide further evidence of your identity and documents and complete a DBS check. You may also be required to take a medical examination, and topographical skills test if you haven’t already done so.
- Pay the PCO Licence Fee: Once your application is approved, you must pay the PCO licence fee, which is currently £310 for a new application and £300 for a renewal application. (Note: This is only the licence fee; the expenses for different tests are separate)
- Receive your PCO Licence: After paying the fee, you will receive your PCO licence, which is valid for three years. You can then begin to work as a private hire driver for licensed private hire vehicle (PHV) companies.
Note: The application process may take several weeks to complete, and it is advisable to begin the process well in advance to avoid delays.
How Long Is PCO Licence Valid?
A PCO licence (Private Hire Driver Licence) in London is valid for a period of three years from the date of issue. After three years, the licence must be renewed if the driver wants to continue working as a private hire driver.
To renew the PCO licence, the driver must meet the renewal criteria set by Transport for London (TfL). This includes completing a TfL-approved safeguarding and customer service training course, passing a medical examination, and undergoing a DBS check.
It is important to note that TfL can revoke or suspend a PCO licence if the driver fails to comply with the licence conditions or violates any regulations. TfL regularly monitors the conduct of private hire drivers to ensure safety.