DVA and European Commission decline to comment on whether agreement was reached on minibus licence extension

The DVA has declined to comment on whether there was an agreement with the European Commission to issue an extension regarding minibus licences. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
The DVA has declined to comment on whether there was an agreement with the European Commission to issue an extension regarding minibus licences. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

THE Driver and Vehicle Agency and European Commission have both declined to comment on whether an agreement has been made between the two organisations to allow people driving minibuses in breach of EU law in the north an extension to get new licences.

It comes amidst concerns that drivers for organisations including charities, educational establishments and community transport networks are being put at risk by operating vehicles without the correct licence and insurance.

The current UK permit scheme, which exempts minibus drivers from extra exams if carrying out 'no profit' travel, is being challenged by the European Commission which wants all minibus drivers to undergo the same testing process.

Infringement proceedings were initially issued against the UK by the Commission in April 2015, with a grace period allowed to enable the change to be implemented.

In June, the Department for Infrastructure, of which the DVA is a branch, said it was "updating its interpretation of the current legislation" which it said would have to be signed off by a minister.

It announced that current minibus drivers could continue to take to the road for at least six months without obtaining a new licence, with an extension until January 1 next year.

The department said: "The guidance is likely to confirm that paid drivers will no longer be able to drive a minibus on their D1(not for hire or reward) driving licence and that some volunteer drivers, undertaking commercial passenger transport activities, may also require a full D or D1 driving licence."

In a letter issued to permit holders in Britain in July addressing the confusion, the Department for Transport in London said: "The UK is presently still a member of the EU, and EU law therefore continues to be applicable.

"Such operators will now need to take action to bring their services into compliance with legal requirements."

One driving instructor in the north, who did not wish to be named, said he could not understand how the DVA could announce an extension.

"The EU was due to give a more clarified outcome on the licensing issue, but the law is there. When the legislation is already there, can a senior civil servant cast it aside?"

The instructor also expressed concern that candidates for minibus exams are being trained in some cases by people who "hold a bus and lorry licence but no other qualifications".

The instructor said: "You would assume that a person training you would have prior experience and done exams."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Infrastructure said: "The Commission has indicated that only those who drive a minibus as part of their hobby are exempt from the Driver Certificate of Profession Competence (DCPC) requirements.

"The legislation is being enforced in line with current guidance. This will change from January 1 2018 should the new guidance be approved.

"There is currently no backlog of applications or tests to be undertaken within DVA."

The spokeswoman added: "The legislation in relation to who can supervise/train someone learning to drive a minibus is clear, that person must have held that licence category (in this case full D1 or D) for at least three years and be at least 21 years of age. "

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said it does not comment on ongoing cases.