Operating a school minibus - are you compliant?
A minibus can be a very practical and cost effective asset for schools and colleges. However the regulations and law surrounding their use can throw up some very complex issues. These issues should not be ignored - failing to comply with the regulations could have serious consequences. Your school as well your drivers could be prosecuted, your vehicles could be impounded, and your insurance policies voided.
Our Regulatory and Corporate Defence lawyers are often asked to advise upon the requirements which are always dependant on the particular circumstances of your establishment, your drivers, the nature of the different type of journeys undertaken, as well as how they are funded.
We have set out some of the regulatory issues you should consider below but you should always seek advice to make sure you are on the right side of the law.
What is a minibus?
A minibus is a motor vehicle with between 9 and 16 passenger seats (excluding the driver). This is described as a category D1 vehicle by the DVLA.
Who can drive a minibus?
Firstly, you must be 21 or over.
Drivers who hold a full and unrestricted driving licence including category D or D1 can drive a minibus whether for hire and reward or not.
Drivers without D or D1 who obtained their normal Category B driving licence before 1 January 1997 have ‘grandfather’ rights and can drive a minibus but not for hire or reward.
Drivers without D or D1 who obtained their normal Category B driving licence after 1 January 1997 can drive a minibus under a section 19 permit, in very limited circumstances.
Drivers without D or D1 who hold a normal Category B licence may, if they comply with certain requirements, drive a minibus that is not being used for hire or reward, without the need for a PCV licence.
What is considered for ‘hire or reward’?
A vehicle is classed as being used 'for hire or reward' where a payment is made, even if that payment is made indirectly (e.g. the cost of the minibus use is included as part of the cost of a trip or in school fees generally), and even if no profit is made.
A minibus is NOT being used for hire or reward in the following circumstances:
- The pupils are not obliged to pay (whether directly or indirectly) in exchange for the right to be passengers
- A minibus is being used by an independent school with charitable status, a free school or an academy provided the use of the minibus is not for a passenger service on a commercial basis, but to take pupils off site for trips within the school day or as an extracurricular activity, where the pupils do not pay in any way for the transport.
What can our school do to ensure that we are compliant?
If you are unsure as to whether your school’s minibus use is deemed to be for ‘hire or reward’ then you can ensure that you are protected by applying for a s.19 permit or by having a PSV Operator’s licence in place.
Under s.19 Transport Act 1985 a permit can be obtained by certain organisations to allow a minibuses to be driven for hire or reward (for a charge to be made), without the need for PSV Operators licence to be in place.
Your school should have a s.19 permit in place if the minibus journeys are to any extent funded by outside sources such as parents.
A s.19 Permit is usually issued to non-profit making bodies (including schools) that run transport services which benefit the community. Commercial organisations, including privately owned schools, are not eligible for a permit.
Standard permits can be obtained for vehicles that carry between 9 and 16 passengers. Large bus permits are also available.
s.19 Permits do not apply to non-charitable schools, and charitable schools who use their vehicles for trading activities, as their use will 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.
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.
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. These requirements are much more onerous than a section 19 permit.
What else does our school need to consider?
Health and Safety
The school or college has responsibilities Health and Safety legislation to ensure the safety and road worthiness of the vehicle, to risk assess the driver and each journey undertaken as well as to ensure in so far as is practicable the safety and well-being of drivers, of passengers and of other road users.
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.
Minibus driver training
Whilst there are no qualifications which drivers have to obtain before driving a minibus, it is best practice for schools to ensure that drivers complete further driving courses, such as the Minibus Driver Awareness Scheme. Failure to do so could have consequences if there is an accident and a subsequent claim that drivers were not fully trained, making the school more likely to be found negligent and liable for any loss. Many insurance companies will require such training as a condition of cover.
Drivers should be aware that in addition to the responsibilities of the school detailed above, they are also personally responsible for the road worthiness of a vehicle. Drivers could be prosecuted for any vehicle defects and would be prosecuted personally for any road traffic offences that are committed.
Where can I find some useful links?
Who can I contact if I have any queries?
Please contact Jeremy Scott or Meghan Waldron in the Regulatory & Corporate Defence Department at Lupton Fawcett on 07971 520407(24/7 number) or 0113 2802125. They will be happy to give you some free initial advice and to discuss how they can help you to keep on the right side of the law.
More about Jeremy
More about Meghan
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.