Balancing your transport needs: minibus compliance

Sponsored: Beverley Bell CBE, founder of Beverley Bell Consulting, helps schools understand the intricacies of compliance

It is essential to remember that every case must be looked at on its own merits and facts. If in doubt, please take expert advice.

Authorisation and minibuses

Do all your minibuses have to be authorised? Yes! A minibus is a public service vehicle (PSV) which carries between nine and 16 passengers. Most schools operate nine and/or 17-seater vehicles. All vehicles of this size must be authorised – either by a Section 19 Permit or a PSV Operator Licence. Some schools use taxis to take their pupils to and from school. If you are using a taxi company, you do not need to worry about authorisation.

However, if you are transporting children in private cars and charging for the service, it is prudent to take advice as, in some cases, the car can be classed as a PSV.

Charity or limited company

If your school is registered as a charity, the likelihood is it can operate minibuses under the Section 19 Permit Regime, which regulates charities which run minibuses and is often fairly lenient. Check if you are a registered charity to see if you can make use of this scheme. It’s easier, quicker and cheaper than procuring a PSV Operator Licence.

If the school is a limited company (or LLP, or partnership) that exists to make a profit, then it cannot use the Section 19 scheme. If your school wishes to operate minibuses – instead of contracting work to a bus and coach company – you will need to apply for, and obtain, a full PSV Operator Licence. It should be noted that case law states it is not possible for limited companies to create a not-for-profit transport arm to assume responsibility for transport operations.

Section 19 permits

A school requires a permit for each vehicle in use. For example, if a school uses three minibuses, three separate permits are required. Every vehicle used under the permit is required to display a valid permit disc in the windscreen. The permit will specify the class of passenger that may be carried aboard the vehicle, such as pupils of a school and staff accompanying them.

Permits can be obtained by applying to the Traffic Commissioner (TC) for the region in which the school is located. Other organisations can, and do, also grant permits, but the TCs are the specialist regulators which are experienced in conferring them. Indeed, at the present time, some local authorities are refusing to grant these permits. The school can apply by completing a paper form, paying an £11 fee and declaring it will abide by road safety undertakings. The school must uphold this – for the safety of passengers and to ensure their permit is not revoked by the TC.

In order to qualify for a permit, a school must not be a business carried on with a view to making profit. Current advice is that a school which has charitable status is likely to be eligible for a standard permit. If a permit holder’s circumstances change once a permit has been granted, it will need to satisfy itself that it is still eligible for one. Again, if in doubt, take advice.

Current advice is that a school which has charitable status is likely to be eligible for a standard permit

PSV operator licences

There are two types of licence: restricted and standard – depending on the number of vehicles to be operated. Both types of licence can be granted only by TCs. Applying for, obtaining and complying with the terms of an operator licence is not straightforward and so a school should consider taking expert advice before doing so.

Restricted licences

As a school’s main occupation is providing education, it may be eligible for a restricted licence. Only two vehicles can be operated, and only vehicles of up to 16 seats can be used. One advantage of a restricted licence is that your school does not need to have a transport manager who holds a specific qualification. However, you will still need to appoint a person who is responsible for ensuring compliance with legislation.

Standard licences

If your school wants to operate more than two vehicles – or use a larger vehicle – a standard licence is required. There are no restrictions on the number, or size, of the vehicles that can be operated.

The school will have to demonstrate that it is in possession of sufficient finances. It will also need to employ a dedicated transport manager, who holds a Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) in passenger transport. The transport manager can be employed as a consultant, with a contract for services, so does not have to be a permanent employee of the school.

MOT certificates

For Section 19 Permit operations, vehicles carrying between nine and 12 passengers require a Class IV MOT test. Vehicles carrying between 13 and 16 passengers require a Class V MOT test.

For PSV Operator Licence operations, each vehicle will need a Class VI MOT test and a Certificate of Initial Fitness (COIF) to confirm it has been built or adapted to meet PSV standards. If it does not have a COIF, check whether it has a Certificate of Conformity or has been issued with a Vehicle Type Approval Certificate.

Driver licences

For Section 19, operations drivers (meaning anyone who drives the minibuses, including teachers) must hold a Passenger Carrying Vehicle Licence (PCV): either a D1 licence (unrestricted) for minibuses; or a D licence (for minibuses and larger passenger vehicles). Drivers who hold one of these licenses may be paid for their driving services.

In addition, anyone who holds a D1 (101) Licence may also be paid. This category was automatically granted to drivers who passed their car driving test before 1 January 1997. Drivers who passed their car driving test on, or after, 1 January 1997 may drive the minibus but there are restrictions.

Restrictions include: the driver must have held a full category B (car licence) for at least two years; they must not receive payment, or other consideration, for driving – other than out-of-pocket expenses; the vehicle has a maximum gross weight not exceeding 3.5 tonnes (4.25 tonnes including specialised equipment for the carriage of disabled passengers); and no trailer is to be towed.

For PSV Operator Licence operations, the driver must hold a full PCV licence – which is either a D1 licence (unrestricted) for minibuses, or a D licence for minibuses and larger passenger-carrying vehicles. The driver may be paid.

Periodic driver CPC

Periodic Drivers’ Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) training was introduced in 2008 for PSV drivers.

PSV drivers are required to have 35 hours of professional training every five years. This training is divided into five modules of seven hours. There are several accredited organisations which provide this training.

For Section 19 operations, the driver must have a Driver CPC (or DCPC) to drive a category D1, D1+E (trailer), D or D+E (trailer) vehicle or vehicle combination – unless one of the exemptions applies. There have not yet been any test cases on these exemptions, but current advice is that, if driving is required as part of the contract of employment, a DCPC is required.

However, if school staff drive minibuses of their own volition, and not as part of their employment contract, they may be considered a volunteer. Under these circumstances, the driver would not require a DCPC. This may be subject to change, so please take advice where appropriate.

For PSV Operator Licence operations, the driver must have a DCPC and they must carry their Driver Qualification Card with them at all times, when driving.

I hope this article has helped and if in doubt, take advice!

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