Hundreds of London minicab drivers may be working fraudulently after buying qualifications, the BBC has found.
Drivers must sit mandatory exams to get a licence. But a BBC undercover investigation has exposed colleges cheating the required tests.
Transport for London (TfL) said it would immediately investigate at least 1,667 applications in light of the evidence.
TfL, the licensing authority, said it was “deeply concerned” by the findings.
The growth in taxi booking firms such as Uber have seen the number of private hire vehicle licences in use that were issued in the capital surge by 86% between 2011 and 2018, from 61,200 to 113,645.
Under the cab application process, along with a criminal record check and medical test, drivers must sit a topographical exam and an English test at one of eight official TfL testing centres.
Evidence of these exams can also be accepted via other qualifications including BTecs, which are usually taken at private colleges and centres.
The qualification can be used to gain a minicab licence from many councils across the UK.
One of these colleges, Vista Training Solutions in Newham, east London, offered to take the tests for several BBC researchers for £500 per BTec.
At a mandatory English and maths assessment answers were read out to eight candidates taking the BTec fraudulently.
Registers were falsified before the online BTec exam was taken by the managers on the candidates’ behalf.
The researcher, who had neither attended any classes nor completed an exam, received a BTec level two certificate in Introduction to the Role of the Professional Taxi and Private Hire Driver.
Another undercover BBC researcher, who had also done nothing other than pay, subsequently received a certificate stating he had passed his BTec level two.
Minicabs licensed by Transport for London
Private hire vehicles (PHV) only licensed drivers
Vista was one of the several centres the BBC heard was facilitating fraudulently obtained qualifications.
During undercover filming Gerti Qamili, a college manager, bragged he had helped “over 300 students” fraudulently achieve the qualification.
The scam had been successfully winning licences from TfL for more than two years, Mr Qamili said.
He warned the researchers “not to tell anyone that someone does the test for you”.
Vista Training Solutions has received more than £1.5m since 2018 for apprenticeships.
Ofsted singled out the college for “ensuring that the training meets the needs of the industry” in a monitoring report in December last year.
Caroline Pidgeon, deputy chair of London’s Transport Committee, said: “Passengers are getting into those vehicles, and they need to know they’re safe.
“To hear parts of that (qualifications) are being forged around London, that’s not right, that’s really worrying and TfL need to get a grip on this.”
Helen Chapman, a director at TfL, said: “It is deeply concerning to learn that some colleges or schools could be illegally providing certificates.
“We will support the relevant authorities with any wider investigations into these organisations. We will take immediate action against any driver identified as fraudulently obtaining a licence.”
TfL said all new applications in which the topographical test had been taken at a private college rather than at one of its eight official examination centres had now been put on hold.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan whose office oversees TfL said: “This was a very serious breach.”
He added that TfL would be working with the police to investigate any rules that had been broken.
“The reason why it’s so serious is because we know that in the past there have been examples of serious criminal offences committed,” he added.
Vista Training Solutions said it was shocked by the allegations, which it said would be a violation of its policies, as well as a crime and. It said it would be launching its own internal investigation.
Mr Qamili and Abdalla Jamac, who the company claimed were responsible for the BTec level two taxi course, are no longer working at Vista.
Both were contacted by the BBC but refused to comment.
This story will be featured on BBC London TV News and Inside Out on BBC One in London on Monday 4 November at 19:30 GMT and afterwards on the iPlayer.