Campaign to Bar Schools from using Section 19 Permits

In March 2024 a campaign was started to end the operation of minibuses by schools and colleges under Section 19 permits.  the MP Sarah Edwards tabled the motion to campaign against the use of such permits saying that the Section 19 regime is "not fit for purpose" when utilised by such establishments.  If it the motion was to be approved, then schools and colleges that wish to offer minibus services to its pupils/staff would be required to apply for an Operator's Licence.

What does a Section 19 Permit Refer To?

Section 19 is a provision within the Transport Act 1985, which provides for the use of Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) with the use of a "Section 19 Permit", when otherwise an operator's licence would be required.  The obligations imposed upon operators that use vehicles under such a permit are less onerous than the obligations imposed upon operators who use vehicles under an Operator's Licence.

In order to qualify for a Section 19 Permit, an operator must be a "not for profit" organisation, such as a school with charitable status.  The transport services for which the vehicles with the Section 19 permit are used must be operated in connection with education, religion, social welfare, or recreational activity that will benefit the community.  The legislation sets out the precise criteria.

What is the Current Campaign to Ban Schools from using Section 19 Permits?

Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the M40 school minibus crash in which 12 children and a teacher died.  Ms. Edwards, MP stated that there "is still no legislation to ensure best practice in the use of school minibuses, and a repeat of that tragedy is a distinct possibility".

As of 10th March 2024, 5 MPs, one DUP representative and an independent have signed the motion.  The motion has also gained the support of shadow Minister for Local Transport, Simon Lightwood who is quoted as being "cautiously supportive" of the wider campaign aims.  A public petition around the matter has been drawn up on the website, and has already received hundreds of signatures.  Click here to go the petition.

The Early Day Motion which was tabled in parliament by Sarah Edwards is backed by the NASUWT, a teachers union and Liz and Steve Fitzgerald, the parents of one of the children that died in the M40 school minibus crash.  The NASUWT published figures revealing that 10% of its teacher members have driven a minibus in the last year and that 25% of those say they are sometimes pressurised to do so, and 26% say that they at least sometimes feel tired when driving.  12% of teachers who have driven a minibus say that they drive more than 50 miles after a full day of teaching "at least sometimes".

GMB, Unison, Unite and NASUWT have published a guidance document on the use of minibuses by schools.  This guidance strongly advises that driving a school minibus should not be part of a teacher's contractual duty.  Furthermore, as Section 19 Permits do not apply outside the UK, schools undertaking foreign trips by road should hire an appropriate vehicle with driver(s) from an operator with an Operator's Licence.  All union members are advised that they should refuse to drive minibuses abroad under any circumstances if the school only holds a Section 19 Permit.

Increased Scrutiny from Authorities over Use of Section 19 Permits

Anecdotally there does appear to be a greater focus on whether organisations that hold Section 19 Permits are using them correctly.  There was a recent Public Inquiry into just such a matter which highlighted some of the confusion around the issuing of Section 19 Permits and their subsequent use. You can read more about that by clicking here.

Next Steps?

If you are part of a school that operates minibuses, using a Section 19 Permit it would be sensible to look into whether you are compliant and also to understand what would be required if you were to be obliged to apply for an Operator's Licence.  Pellys Transport & Regulatory Law have years of expertise dealing with such matters and can advise you on your correct use of a Section 19 Permit.  Please click here to send us an email or call us on 01279 818280 to discuss the matter with one of our expert solicitors.  We are here to help.

(c) Richard Pelly, May 2024


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