What is bilking?

Ever since the world’s first taxi rank appeared outside the Maypole Inn in London in 1634, the work of a taxi driver has relied on trust. The passenger trusts you to get them to their destination safely. While you trust the passenger to pay for the service at the end of the journey.


In general, this system has worked very well but unfortunately every driver will have tales to tell of when this trust has broken down. Passengers making off without paying (or bilking as it’s also known) is one of the most common problems for a taxi driver to deal with. Read our Taxi Insurer guide to this problem to find out what the legal situation is and what you can do about it. 


Being aware of your legal rights and responsibilities is only part of how to prepare yourself for life on the road. Having the right taxi insurance in place helps to protect you, your vehicle and other road users, too.


Taxi customer

What is bilking?


Bilking is where someone runs off before they’ve paid for goods and services. Taxi drivers will come across it when a passenger does a runner at the end of a journey to avoid paying the fare. And when passengers fail to pay their fare, it’s not just lost income you’ll be deprived of. You’ll also be left out of pocket as you’ve had to pay the fuel and running costs for the trip.


What’s worse is that if the matter is not dealt with, they’ll be tempted to do it again to another driver or another business. Unfortunately, people who bilk taxi drivers also do it in many other walks of life. From guests who leave a hotel in the middle of the night without settling the bill and the so-called ‘dine and dash’ to motorists who simply fill up with petrol and drive off without paying – bilking is a serious issue. 


From late night journeys carrying clubbers across busy city centres to daytime trips down quiet country lanes, taxi drivers can often find themselves in situations where they feel at risk. This is made even worse by the worry their passenger may not even pay them for their work and time!


Is it a criminal offence to fail to pay a fare?


If someone refuses to pay a fare or runs off without paying after a journey then they’re committing a criminal offence and should be dealt with by the police. Let’s look at three common bilking situations and how they’re covered by the law.

  • Scenario 1: You drop a passenger at the destination and they run off without paying. The passenger knew they needed to pay the fare and ran off to avoid paying it. This is ‘making off without payment’ and considered an act of theft under Section 3 of the Theft Act 1978.
  • Scenario 2: A passenger knowingly takes a journey in a taxi without having the money to pay for it. They don’t tell the driver until they reach the final destination and then refuse to pay. The passenger has obtained services dishonestly which is an offence under Section 11 of the Fraud Act 2006.
  • Scenario 3: The passenger promises they’ll go to a cash machine on the way or their friend will pay on arrival at the destination. However, these representations prove to be false and they refuse to pay the fare. This is an offence of false representation under section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006.


There is absolutely no ambiguity in the legislation dealing with these offences. The offences are a police matter and not a civil matter. In each of them the passenger intended to avoid paying the fare and has acted dishonestly. A genuine dispute over the fare amount, mistakes or misunderstandings are not dishonest and are not a crime.


Dissatisfaction with the level of service you’ve provided or a disagreement about the price payable may mean it’s not a crime. Also remember, that these offences only cover the fare costs. Any extras such as soiling charges will not be covered. So, if someone is sick in your taxi and they refuse to pay an extra charge for cleaning afterwards, then that’s not a police matter.


Taxi driver

What to do if someone fails to pay


As a taxi driver your business depends on being able to collect the fare rightly due to you for the service you’ve provided. However, getting home safe to your family is far more important. So, what can you do if someone refuses to pay or simply runs away at the end of the journey? Here are some top tips on what you can do to receive the money you’re due.


  • Never put yourself in danger.
  • Remain professional at all times. Stay calm and avoid strong or threatening language.
  • If you’re threatened or a passenger is becoming violent, don’t try to fight back. Call 999 immediately.
  • If possible, don’t leave the taxi cab. You’re much safer inside where you can call for help if an incident occurs.
  • Avoid detaining a passenger who has refused to pay. This includes locking the suspect in your vehicle or taking them to the nearest police station. Although a so-called ‘citizen’s arrest’ using reasonable force is legal, it could put you at risk or even get you into trouble. It’s usually best to avoid doing this – especially for a small amount of money.
  • If it’s safe to do so, make sure you know how to quickly start recording on your phone or dashcam. It might also be worth investing in a CCTV system. This evidence could be useful if the matter goes to court. It’s also useful as it will show that you have acted legally. Make sure you have a sign in your taxi telling passengers that you have CCTV.
  • As soon as possible, write down a description of the suspect and anything else that might be useful in identifying them later.
  • If it’s just happened then call 999. The police will want to know your exact location. You could use the What3Words app, a postcode or a road name.
  • Sometimes a dispute can occur between a driver and passenger over the route taken or the cost of the fare. This is then a civil, not a police matter. If you can’t settle the dispute at the time, make sure you get their details so the matter can be raised as a small claims case.


Prevention is often better than cure. Read our recent article on the most common problems for a taxi driver to face and how to avoid them for details on how to avoid bilking in the first place.


If you’re concerned that a passenger might have the intention of not paying, perhaps ask for payment in advance. Or if you feel unsafe, you could refuse the fare. Clearly this involves a judgement on your part, but as the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) points out it’s often better to be safe than sorry.


Be aware, though, that a taxi driver can’t refuse a fare without a good excuse. Just because you don’t like the look of someone isn’t likely to be enough of a reason for refusal. Make sure you and your drivers know your rights before setting out on any fare.


Finally, providing an easy way to pay by phone or card could help cut down on bilking. After all, in our increasingly cashless society, not everyone carries enough cash to pay a taxi fare. By making it as easy as possible to pay the fare you could reduce the bilking temptation. Not convinced? See our six reasons to invest in a contactless card reader for more details.


As a taxi or PHV driver, you’ll often be working alone, sometimes late at night when the passengers you pick up might not be on their best behaviour. Follow this Transport for London (TfL) advice to help you stay safe.



How do you report bilking?


If you feel threatened, the crime is still in progress, or the suspect is still present or close by then calling 999 will be your first port of call. But even if you don’t do that at the time, it’s always important to report the matter to the police. Either report the crime online to your local police service or call 101.


If nothing else, it will help the police work out how often it happens, and could help them identify trends and repeat offenders. If there are operators or drivers who are particularly prone to bilking then the police may offer additional support to try to prevent it from happening again.


What will the police do?


Once you’ve made a complaint to the police they’ll investigate and decide if an offence has been committed. If they don’t think there has been then they might still pass the passengers’ details on to you so you can bring a civil claim if you wish.


Even if there is evidence of a crime, the police will also decide whether it’s proportionate to investigate further. For example, if someone has run away from a £5 fare then while it will be recorded as a crime, if there were no additional factors then they might take no further action because of the low value.


If the police successfully identify a suspect, then you will probably need to make a statement about what happened. Be aware that if the suspect denies it, there still might not be enough evidence to bring a prosecution. At court the prosecution will need to prove the following in order to secure a conviction:


  • The passenger knew they had to pay for services at that time.
  • They dishonestly left the location or ran away without paying.
  • They intended to avoid paying the amount due.


While the case might seem open and shut to you as the victim, this isn’t always the case when matters get to court.


What are the punishments for bilking?


If the suspect admits the bilking but this is their first offence, they may be given a Conditional Caution. This means they’ll get a criminal record and they may have to pay you the fare. If a suspect has to pay compensation to you as part of a Conditional Caution or Community Resolution you might be asked to give an idea of the cost to you. Don’t forget to include your time for making a statement as well as the fare. There’s no reason why you should be left out of pocket due to their criminal behaviour.


If the suspect denies it and there is sufficient evidence then they may have to go to the Magistrates Court or even the Crown Court for trial. In that case you may be called to give your evidence.


For those convicted in the Magistrates’ Court, they could be fined and/or jailed for up to six months. If they’re convicted in the Crown Court (or sent to the Crown Court for sentencing), they can face a prison term of up to two years and/or a hefty fine.


For more details on how the courts decide on sentences for the offence of making off without payment read the detailed Sentencing Council guidelines.


Protecting your business with taxi insurance


The life of a taxi driver has its fair share of stresses and strains. From accidents to theft, the team at Taxi Insurer are here to help you through these difficult times.


The taxi insurance arranged by us comes in many different forms to cover everything from single vehicles to entire PHV fleets. Public liability insurance and employers’ liability insurance can also usually be added.


We can also offer no claims bonus protection, cover for minibuses and MPVs if you run larger vehicles, as well as a 24-hour claims management service so if you do need to make a claim, it can be dealt with as swiftly as possible.


And remember if you do run a fleet of cabs, we can arrange for just one simple policy to cover all your vehicles, saving you both time and money.


Get a quick quote for taxi insurance today.