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The Bursars Review - Feature article on the confusion surrounding Minibus licencing - Blog Post

The Bursars Review - Feature article on the confusion surrounding Minibus licencing

- 01-Nov-2017 -

This article was published in the Autumn 2017 edition of The Bursars review. Written by the editor Gillian Goode.

Chris Maynard, MD of Castle Minibus gives his opinon on minibus safety in the Autumn 2017 edition of The Bursars Review.

Minibuses – things you need to know but don’t want to think about

Just thinking of the work involved in operating the minibuses at your school might make your heart beat a little faster. From the health and safety implications of a non-compliant vehicle to the type of licence needed for different scenarios and staff members, the subject of minibuses can be a complex one. With the Department for Transport recently having announced a public consultation to take place this autumn on its new guidance, we talk to three school minibus providers and bring you their advice plus outline the work we as an association are doing in this area to bring clarity to schools.

One of questions we get asked regularly by ISBA members is ‘what licence do you need to drive a minibus?’. Chris Maynard, managing director of Castle Minibus, says, “regardless of the type of vehicle, school or organisation, the safest option is a fully trained D1 licence holder (with a certificate of professional competence (CPC) if they are employed as a paid driver), whose practical skills are assessed at least every three years”.

John Maskell, managing director of RedKite Minibuses, adds, “minibus licencing is one of the most complicated licence categories in the UK. If you drive for a profit-making organisation you will need to upgrade your driving licence to Category D1 (Minibus), and gain your Driver CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence). If you drive for a non-profit making organisation you can either upgrade your licence to Category D1 and/or sit the Midas course”. This however is depending on the size and the number of seats the minibus has (if using a section 19 permit and drivers only have a category B licence and MIDAS training, they cannot drive vehicles with over 12 seats).

Paul Huxford, managing director of PHVC Minibus and Fleet Suppliers, adds, “companies should adhere to the HM Government ‘Driving School Minibuses’ publication which has been produced by the Department for Education, the Department for Transport and the Association of Chief Police Officers. This document provides guidance on licences when driving a school minibus and can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/494266/Driving_school_minibuses_and_advice_for_schools_and_local_authorities.pdf

The range of minibuses on the market and the often conflicting advice from suppliers can make it difficult for schools to understand the type of minibus that not only meets their school requirements but also ensures they are compliant with the requirements of the law. Chris says “the minibus should be a factory-built minibus not a lightweight converted panel van. This is the safest, belt and braces, option. However, where minibuses and licences are concerned there is conflicting advice from minibus suppliers, panel van convertors and different requirements across the local authorities. This is because of exceptions to the conditions and confused interpretations of the law that result in grey areas, exposing schools to unintentional risk, both physically and legally”.

Chris believes that the lowest possible risk option for schools is to have a fully trained D1 licence holder, driving a factory built minibus for 8+ passengers.

John agrees that it is clear there is a lot of confusion in some areas surrounding minibus driver entitlement, safety and regulations. He says, “this is why it is important to be reassured and fully compliant with ownership of a minibus. From development to bringing a fully tested VCA certified minibus to the market, can take from three to four years in the process”.

He adds that “a minibus conversion, if done on a purpose-built vehicle with windows already fitted by the base vehicle manufacturer, is specifically designed to be a minibus from the very start in much the same way as a minibus built in a factory”.

However, John believes that “however a minibus is constructed it does not and is not required to have side impact bars. Every large organisation including schools have a duty of care to offer equal opportunities to those less abled wheelchair users, hence occasional wheelchair friendly minibuses have in the past proved popular”.

He goes on to say that “the 17-seat minibus is a popular choice of transport as it enables sports fixtures and field trips to include more students, fewer trips and the need for fewer qualified minibus drivers. The impact on the environment is friendlier; as oppose to larger fleets of small nine-seat vehicles, adding to greater pollution of the planet, higher fuel costs, servicing/maintenance, MOT and road tax. All of which need to be taken in to account in the current environmental and financial climate”.

Paul agrees: “factory-built minibuses are certainly our first choice and the most popular. It’s no surprise really as manufacturers spend millions designing and testing these vehicles for the sole purpose of carrying passengers. We also work closely with coachbuilders for specialist builds such as wheelchair accessible requirements but we do not endorse the so called ‘light weight minibuses’ (i.e. high seating capacity with a low gross vehicle weight).

Section 19 Permits.

Chris summarises the first steps for schools embarking on licences for their minibus drivers: “Firstly, schools need the right kind of permits for their transportation. Organisations that provide transport on a ‘not-for-profit’ basis can apply for permits under Section 19 or Section 22 of the Transport Act 1985. These permits allow the holder to operate transport services, not for hire or reward, without the need for a full public service vehicle (PSV) operator’s licence.

Privately owned schools that do not have charitable status are not eligible for the section 19 permit and will need a (PSV) operator’s licence. More information can be found at www.gov.uk. Just recently, the Department for Transport has announced that it will be reviewing the issue of section 19 permits, and will be conducting a public consultation this autumn”, says Chris.

Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC)

John explains that driver CPCs came into effect on the 10th of September 2008 for bus/coach (PCV) drivers and says, “if you already hold your driver CPC you will need to complete the driver CPC periodic training of 35 hours. You will also have to have periodic training over a five-year period to maintain your CPC status.

“If you have yet to gain your CPC, you will have to complete Modules two and four of the Initial Qualification, or, if you passed your Category B, (Car), test prior to January 1997 you can choose whether to complete the 35 hours periodic training, or the Modules two and four”.

D1 licences

A full D1 licence is required to drive a minibus with a gross vehicle weight of over 3.5 tonnes (or an extra 750 kgs only for specialist equipment such as wheelchair access). The licence requires medical clearance including a sight test, theory and practical training, usually two or three days of training and costs on average £1500 per teacher.

Chris says, “it is understandable why schools may look at options that don’t require a full D1 and the advice is certainly confusing depending who you speak to because of the exceptions”.

A quick history of the D1 licence

23 years ago there was a terrible accident involving a minibus on the M40, resulting in 12 children and their teacher sadly losing their lives. This led to the change in driving licensing law, so that from the 1st January 1997 everyone who passed their driving test after this date would need the full D1 licence to drive a minibus with a gross vehicle weight of over 3.5 tonnes.

Chris explains that “this was a European wide change in the law however, the UK made an exception for volunteer drivers fearing it would be too costly for the voluntary sector. So, volunteer drivers are not required to have a D1 licence and this is where it gets complicated”.

Exception 1. Volunteer Drivers

Government advice on volunteer drivers can be found at www.gov.uk/driving-a-minibus and states:

“You may not need a D1 licence if the minibus is not for ‘hire or reward’. You might be able to drive a minibus with up to 16 passenger seats using your current car driving licence as long as there’s no payment from or on behalf of the passengers (it’s not for ‘hire or reward’)”.

“You’re driving on a voluntary basis and the minibus is used for social purposes by a non-commercial body”

Chris says, “some schools and authorities consider their staff to be volunteers when driving a minibus, class themselves as non-commercial and that school trips could be classed as a social activity. This is where the interpretation of what is ‘for reward or hire’ can cause confusion. Are teachers voluntary drivers? There has never been a legal test case, and I hope there never is, as to whether a teacher driving without a D1 licence, involved in an accident could claim they were a volunteer”.

Paul adds, “the Government’s view is, if a teacher’s contract of employment does not state that driving minibuses is part of their duties and they receive no additional payment for driving a minibus to take pupils on trips or to social sporting events (except for reimbursement for out of pocket expenses), they will be driving on an extra-contractual, voluntary basis. In this case, the category B licence would suffice (assuming the conditions are met) even if the school reimburses the teacher for fuel, parking and tolls. The Government’s advice for schools can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/494266/Driving_school_minibuses_and_advice_for_schools_and_local_authorities.pdf

Many local authorities have consulted their solicitors on these issues. Hertfordshire County Council have been advised that teachers and school employees are not volunteers and Bedfordshire County Council’s legal advice clarifies that school trips are not social activities.

[Box out to sit next to ‘Exception 1 para above’] Hertfordshire County Council’s Position

“Our position is based on legal advice from the council’s solicitors taken in 2000, which has been reviewed periodically in 2006, 2010 and 2011. Their view continues to be that the only reason a teacher is driving a school minibus is because of their paid employment with that school. This includes driving outside of school hours and at weekends, since a teacher’s contract does not state daily hours of working, only an annual number of hours of “directed time”. They are therefore “receiving payment or consideration” since their salary cannot be considered “out of pocket expenses”.

“Our former Director of Education wrote to the DfES in 2002 about the matter and the reply from the then Minister for Schools, concurred with our solicitor's view that teachers needed to hold category D1 entitlement on their licence, they are not eligible for the exemptions that apply to the voluntary sector, and he could not see a case for exempting them. HCC’s view is shared by a number of other local authorities (www.thegrid.org.uk/info/healthandsafety/minibus.shtml).

“School trips are official school business. If a member of staff took some pupils as passengers in their private car, they would need business use insurance cover as it would not be covered by a social, domestic and pleasure policy” (www.bedford.gov.uk/transport_and_streets/road_safety/useful__information_and_advice/minibus_advice_and_guidance.aspx).

Exception 2. Grandfather rights

Anyone who passed their driving test before January 1997 will have inherited a D1 licence as part of that test, but there is a significant difference in driving a minibus with up to 16 pupils compared to a normal vehicle. Using the inherited D1 is legal but the driver might not have any minibus experience and won’t have had to take a recent medical, eye or theory test. As Chris says, “would you be happy to let a 50-year-old member of staff, who has only ever driven cars, drive a minibus four times the size of a car with four times the number of passengers without proper training? Just because you’re legal doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safe”.

There are alternative practical minibus training sessions offered to these inherited D1 holders, as well as those refreshing their skills, but these are not a legal requirement.

Exception 3. Minibus Weight

Minibus manufacturers such as Ford, Mercedes, Citroen, Peugeot and Renault continue to improve the safety and quality of their factory built minibuses without any concern for licence weight limits. 

However, to avoid the need for a D1 licence, a few vehicle convertors offer a ‘light-weight’ minibus which can carry 16 passengers with disabled access (weighing less than 4.25 tonnes). Chris says, “that is essentially a converted panel van with a basic ramp. They are not factory built and are missing the heavier safety features like side impact bars. It also doesn’t take into consideration the minibus might be overweight with sports equipment and a rugby team.

“This is an option currently being offered to schools who believe that the minibus can then be driven by anyone over 21 holding a standard car licence, which I consider a potentially massive safety issue”.


Changing the law so all drivers of 8+ vehicles must hold a full D1 licence.

The ISBA believes, along with Castle Minibus, PHVC and RedKite that the safest option for school staff (who are not specific paid drivers) is a fully trained D1 licence, assessed at least every three years and driving a factory built minibus. Exploiting any of the exceptions above presents a legal or safety risk which is otherwise avoidable.

Chris says, “we need to raise awareness of the current risks and eliminate the exceptions to simply bring us in line with the other 27 countries within the European Union who, since 1997 require their drivers to have a full D1 licence if they are carrying more than 8 passengers”.

Paul adds, “over the past 12 months I have been liaising closely with both the Ministry for Transport and Ford UK with regards to driving licence issues and Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) training. The Ministry has been examining all European legislations and a report on the latest negotiations will be provided to ISBA members in the near future”.

ISBA’s minibus safety campaign

The ISBA is working closely with Castle Minibus, PHVC and RedKite to produce specific guidance for schools in this area with the aim of reducing the confusion and explaining exactly what should be in place regarding licences, training, permits and risk assessments before minibuses are operated. We will update members when the new guidance is published.

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