Community transport in crisis

New guidance from DfT says tendered contracts make S19 operators commercial . . . and some drivers need full licences and DCPC

Community transport operators have been plunged into crisis by new guidance from the Department for Transport, which says Section 19 and 22 operators CANNOT run openly-tendered contracts and, in some circumstances, may need fully-licensed drivers with DCPC.

The guidance letter from DfT, dated 31 July, says that S19/22 licences allow operation of vehicles only if the operation of vehicles is NOT the main occupation of the licensee, or services are exclusively for non-commercial purposes, which the DfT says cannot now be justified by charitable status or ‘not for profit’ claims.

Additionally, the clarification of ‘non-commercial’ means that any driver of paid-for services must have an unrestricted D1 licence and Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC); inherited restricted D1 entitlement will not be adequate. Although the DfT acknowledges that the guidance has changed, it is not offering a ‘period of grace’ but says it will have a public consultation in Autumn to clarify changes needed for the Transport Act 1985.

CTA calls for ‘stay of execution’

The letter, signed by DfT’s Stephen Fidler, prompted the Community Transport Association’s Chief Executive, Bill Freeman, to write to all members urging them not to panic, calling on DVSA and the Traffic Commissioners not to take action until after the consultation is complete, and for local authorities to allow tendered contracts to run as normal.

“Local authorities should also see whether the services they ask community transport to run could be fulfilled under a grant agreement where no competitive tendering would be necessary,” says Mr Freeman.

The guidance is believed to be the result of a challenge through the EC to clarify Section 19 and 22 operation, led by Nottinghamshire operator Martin Allen. Launched several years ago, the lengthy legal battle – the result of commercial operators losing business to S19 and S22 operators – had reached the point at which a ‘reasoned opinion’ verdict was imminently due. It is believed that the DfT’s letter presages this judgement.

CTA’s Bill Freeman labelled the challenge a ‘frustrating and destabilising campaign against our sector.’ He continues: “…we meet politicians and members of the public who love community transport and the difference it makes for people whose lives would be poorer without it. They will not understand why anyone wants to make it harder for community transport operators to continue to support some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

The guidance says that: ‘…as a result, there may be some organisations that are relying on such permits inappropriately. Such operators will now need to take action to bring their services into compliance with legal requirements.”

Because the S19/22 licensing system is administered by a disparate number of issuing organisations including the CTA and local authorities, it is not known how many permits are in circulation. Ostensibly, the Traffic Commissioners can call the sector to disciplinary proceedings, and have, with a recent case deciding – as the guidance reiterates – that any payment creates a non-compliant commercial situation, for both the operator and the driver.

Some community transport organisations had anticipated this situation, and have a commercial arm running under O licence provision with qualified drivers.

It is not yet known how insurance companies including CTA’s own service, will manage clients who are now implicitly running outside of this new interpretation of the law, or whether councils will rescind contracts.

Please see attached letter from the DfT ;

  • Do you work for a community transport organisation (CTO)? How will these changes affect you? Or perhaps you have lost contracts to a CTO. Let News Editor Chris Peat know what you think by email, at [email protected]


One thought on “Community transport in crisis

  1. Andy B says:

    All commercial operators are asking for is a level playing field and fair competition in bidding for contracts. If s19 or s22 permit holders wish to do work they get paid for, then they should have to do so under all the same factors we do. If that means they can’t afford to provide their services then they need to look at other ways of receiving financial provision such as donations.

    Nobody is trying to ‘make it harder for community transport to support vulnerable citizens’ but we have had enough of unfair competition when trying to earn a living. The community transport organisations that have begun applying for O-licences are to be commended and I hope more will do this if they want to continue in this arena.

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