Whilst minibuses have always been a complex issue for schools, the latest ISI Handbook clarifies that compliance with correct licensing for minibuses and drivers, when applicable, will be now be considered as part of 'relevant health and safety laws' for the purposes of compliance with the Independent School Standards.
Failure to comply can also have serious consequences - drivers and schools can be prosecuted, vehicles impounded, and insurance policies voided.
It is therefore important that schools regularly review their minibus arrangements, and seek professional advice where needed. In this article we set out some of the headline requirements of for schools.
Are our vehicles covered?
If a vehicle is designed to carry 9 or more passengers (plus a driver) and is operated 'for hire or reward', the vehicle is a 'public service vehicle' and the school will require either a PSV operator's licence or a section 19 permit. A vehicle is used 'for hire or reward' even if payment is made indirectly (eg. bundled in the cost of a trip or in school fees generally), and even if no profit is made.
What permit should my school apply for?
- Section 19 Permits
Charitable schools can apply to their local traffic authority for one or more section 19 permits. Only one vehicle may be driven on a permit at a time, but schools can have multiple permits if they wish. Standard permits allow the use of minibuses of up to 16 passengers. Large bus permits are also available.
A permit may not be used to carry members of the general public, or with a view to profit or incidental to an activity carried on with a view to profit. Permits may also have additional conditions imposed. Each permit is valid for five years.
A section 19 permit can also be used for a smaller vehicles or MPVs, but only if the school charges separate fares to each passenger, and does so without a view to profit.
Non-charitable schools, and charitable schools who use their vehicles for trading activities, cannot use section 19 permits as their use will always be considered to be 'with a view to profit', even if no fee is charged or profit made. These schools must instead apply for a PSV operator's licence.
- PSV Operator's Licences
All schools (both charitable and non-charitable) can apply for a restricted PSV licence (for up to 2 vehicles of up to 16 passengers each) or a full licence (for any number and for larger vehicles). International licences are also available for travel within the EU. A separate licence is required for each traffic area from which you operate. A PSV licence must be renewed every five years.
To obtain a PSV licence, a school must be of good repute and of sufficient financial standing, have good facilities for maintaining its vehicles, and be capable of ensuring that it and its staff are capable of obeying all the rules. This is generally considered to be more onerous than a section 19 permit.
All vehicles should be regularly serviced and must meet requirements (eg. for seat belts) applicable to their age, size and use. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency carries out spot checks and may revoke licences and permits if vehicles are not roadworthy.
Schools should carefully consider the licences held, and the driving arrangements, of each member of staff who intends to drive the minibus. Schools may wish to seek professional advice about this to ensure that their own arrangements do not fall foul of the law.
- A driver with a full and unrestricted category D or D1 driving licence can drive an appropriate vehicle under either a PSV licence or a section 19 permit.
- A driver under a section 19 permit who obtained their licence before 1997 can drive a minibus, whether paid or unpaid, even though their licence has a D1(101) (not for hire or reward) restriction.
- A driver who obtained their licence after 1 January 1997 (and who is not otherwise licenced to drive a minibus) may only do so under a section 19 permit in very limited circumstances.
- Drivers may also need to hold a Certificate of Professional Competence.
- It is also best practice for drivers to complete further driving courses, such as the Minibus Driver Awareness Scheme.
If you have any questions about your school's minibus arrangements, please contact Natalie Wargent in our Independent Schools team on 0117 314 5433 or complete the below form.