Department issues 13 pages of advice in bid to clarify minibus licence rules

Proposals being considered by the Department of Infrastructure could affect thousands of people who drive minibuses in a voluntary capacity

The department in charge of transport has penned new guidance about what is required before people can drive a minibus.

Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure (DfI) said it expects the bulk of voluntary groups not to have to upgrade their licences, following months of confusion surrounding the rules and regulations.

The DfI yesterday published two documents in what it said was a bid to clarify the situation – a five-page letter setting out its revised guidance, and an eight-page question and answer sheet further explaining the rules.

The DfI said “anyone who is paid to drive must have a full D [bus] or D1 [minibus] category licence, and any transport operator who charges customers for services must hold a bus operator licence”.

It added that “volunteer minibus drivers will continue to be able to drive for voluntary organisations as they do now, and the majority of voluntary groups will be able to continue operating under their section 10B permits”.

These 10B permits are known as “small bus permits”, and exempt users from needing a bus operator licence if they provide not-for-profit services in the fields of education, religion, social welfare, “or any activity which benefits the community”.

The whole saga began in June when the DfI moved to update its guidance around minibuses (which are defined in law as being vehicles with eight-to-16 passenger seats).

This sparked concern, because it meant many people who drove such buses felt they would need a higher grade of licence to continue doing so.

Some groups warned they would have to drastically curb their activities if this was the case, because specialist licences for the vehicles can cost up to £1,000 and take months to obtain.

Yesterday’s detailed new guidance aims to set the record straight about what the licensing requirements are.

It was issued despite the fact a consultation is currently under way into the rules around minibus licensing.

It is thought yesterday’s revised guidance is now not likely to change, regardless of what is said in that ongoing consultation (which has been scheduled to end on December 8).

To read the letter explaining the revised guidance, click here.

To read the question-and-answer booklet, click here.

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