Department claims minibus licence changes will not affect majority of community and voluntary organisations
CHANGES to minibus licence requirements will not affect the majority of community and voluntary organisations, the Department for Infrastructure has claimed.
The department has announced the extension of a consultation until December 8, but it remains unclear what the impact on schools will be, who are not specifically referred to in the latest statement.
Under current rules - in breach of EU law - a permit scheme allows drivers with regular car licences to operate minibuses on a 'not for profit' basis for schools, charities and community transport associations.
The department said that it had received "correspondence threatening legal action against the current arrangements" and as a result had moved to clarify the guidance.
Community transport associations, schools and elected representatives - including both the DUP and Sinn Féin - are opposed to any change requiring significant re-testing for drivers.
Former Communities Minister Paul Givan said last month that drivers connected to paid employment would be forced to go through re-testing "costing over £1,000" while the "ridiculous aspect of this is volunteers not being paid will still be able to drive a minibus."
A spokesman for the department said it "expects the majority" of organisations in the community and voluntary sector to "be unaffected".
"However, those organisations which are affected need to take action to become compliant as quickly as possible and we will work with those committed to transitioning to enable them to do so."
Although schools are not referred to specifically, a section on the departmental website states that "if you are paid to drive or drive a minibus as a consequence of your
employment you will need a full Category D1 driving licence."
Last month the Controlled Schools' Support Council (CSSC), which represents state schools across Northern Ireland, said the changes would be a "disaster" and could leave schools having to "curtail their activities".
Meanwhile, the department has opened a consultation on changes to the practical driving test, to run until January 17.
Amongst the proposals included are allowing learners to drive on motorways, the scrapping of the 45 miles per hour limit for new drivers, and doubling the current one year restricted period to two years.