The Private Hire industry has a "trade press" and there is always much being said about unlicensed drivers. That may seem like a technical issue, for insiders to worry about, but it is extremely important - for you.

Leaving aside buses and coaches, which have their own regulations, the law says that any person who offers to carry passengers for reward must be licensed. And so must their car, (a licence for which is issued and renewed only after a "super" MOT test). And, if it is a Private Hire service, (as opposed to Hackney Carriage), the person accepting bookings must have an Operators Licence.

Hackney Carriages are the ones with a Taxi sign on the roof, and you can flag them down in the street. Private Hire cars, or mini-cabs, are the ones you must pre-book, by law.

For Private Hire, there must be a valid driver licence, vehicle licence and Operator Licence in effect. The trip must be pre-booked. If any one of these elements is missing, the driver, car and passenger are uninsured.

When you call your favourite mini-cab to take you home from a night out, you can see the driver's licence which must be displayed, and the car licence plate which is on the back of the vehicle. Generally, if the licences appear in order, and if the car displays the name of the cab company, they will be covered by an Operator's Licence.

This changes when you are using a chauffeur service, like Alpha Drive. Although subject to exactly the same regulations, most chauffeurs have a dispensation which means they do not have to display a Vehicle or Driver's Licence, subject to certain conditions being met.

The rational is that there is usually a more established relationship between the client and the Operator. This dispensation recognises that a chauffeur service is rather different to the usual min-cab service.

All operators are audited by the Licensing Authority to ensure that they comply with all of the regulations, including the use of licenced drivers and vehicles. Therefore, if the company with whom you book your travel has an Operator's Licence, then you should be able to rely on the Licensing Authority to police the system.

Let me make it clear, if you book unlicenced operators or drivers to carry your people to the airport, they will not be covered by insurance. The driver will not have been DBS checked, the vehicle will not have been inspected to the higher standard and you will be in a very shaky position with respect to duty of care.

So, how can you tell if your chauffeur service is properly licenced? First, you can ask them for a copy of their Operator's Licence. You can ask for the driver and vehicle licences, but you may end up with more licences than you can reasonably keep up to date. Any reluctance to provide a copy should ring alarm bells.

Alternatively, most Licensing Authorities have an on-line register of licences. Here are links to the local ones:

South Cambridgeshire District Council

Cambridge City Council

Huntingdonshire District Council

East Cambridgeshire District Council

Unlicenced drivers are more common than you might think. Don't take chances, CHECK! A minute of checking will be well worthwhile, if only for the peace of mind.