Last reviewed 20 November 2023
Any organisation that accepts any sort of payment for carrying passengers must normally hold either a PSV operator’s licence or a private hire vehicle licence. However, Section 19 and Section 22 of the Transport Act 1985 allow organisations that operate without a view to profit to have a permit that exempts them from the need to hold a PSV O-licence when providing transport for a charge. Under specified conditions, the drivers of certain such vehicles are exempt from the need to have PCV entitlement on their driving licence.
Two classes of permit were established by the 1985 Act, Section 19 permits, which apply in the case of vehicles used by educational or other bodies and Section 22 permits, which are community bus permits. Under the 1985 Act, a PSV O-licence and a Section 19 or 22 permit cannot be held by the same legal entity, regardless of whether an organisation is carrying out all services for exclusively non-commercial purposes. It is possible for an organisation to hold both Section 19 and Section 22 permits, but a vehicle must only be used under one type of permit at a time, and it must display the correct disc according to its use. A permit is not specific to a particular vehicle, but it can only be used on one vehicle at a time.
Permits are granted for a maximum period of five years. At any time during the validity of a permit, it may be revoked, have new conditions added, or have existing conditions varied, by a Traffic Commissioner (TC), or by the designated body that issued it. If the permit was issued by a designated body, then that body must be consulted by the TC before it is revoked or varied. Whilst a permit may be varied by a designated body or a TC it may not be varied to substitute another body for the body to which it was granted or to substitute another vehicle to which it relates.
Section 19 permits can be granted by Traffic Commissioner. Other designated bodies, such as local authorities, Passenger Transport Exexcutives, and bodies involved in education, religion, social welfare, recreation, and other activities beneficial to the community, including community transport projects. can issue section 19 permits, apart from those for large buses. A S19 permit for the use of a large bus may only be issued by a Traffic Commissioner (TC), except for recreational purposes. The TC will need to be satisfied that there are adequate arrangements for maintaining the vehicle or vehicles to PSV standards. Section 19 permits issued by a Traffic Commissioner cost £11 for a small bus and £20 for a large bus.
Such vehicles may be used to carry passengers for hire or reward provided that the vehicle is operated by the organisation holding the permit, is not being used to carry members of the public at large, is being used non-commercially, ie not for profit, and is being used in accordance with any conditions on the permit. A vehicle operated under a Section 19 permit cannot be used to provide a local service carrying the public. The definition of “local service” does not rely on the vehicle being used to carry members of the public at large. If it is used “at separate fares” and journeys fall within the fifteen miles threshold, the vehicle may be operated only under the authority of a PSV O-licence or Section 22 Community Bus Permit. Although Section 19 minibuses may not carry commercial advertising directly related to their use, with a view to profit or incidental to a for-profit commercial activity (for example, a service sponsored by a supermarket and serving a store), it is none the less permissible for them to advertise their sponsors where this is unconnected with the use of the vehicle.
While passengers using Section 19 permit minibuses must come within the class specified on the permit, the carriage of unconnected passengers will not in every case invalidate the principle that members of the public may not be carried. For example, “mobility impaired residents” using a village bus already satisfy criteria such as a lack of access to private transport and residency, meeting conditions of class B and E permit users.
Volunteer drivers of Section 19 permit vehicles with 16 seats or less are not subject to drivers’ hours rules, and the vehicles are exempt from having a tachograph. Drivers of vehicles with 9–16 seats who are employees of the permit holder are subject to GB Domestic Hours regulations. Most large buses will require a tachograph to be fitted and used, and the drivers will be subject to EU drivers’ hours rules.
Section 22 permits are granted by Traffic Commissioners (TCs) for the operation of public service vehicles to a group or groups concerned with the social and welfare needs of one or more communities to provide a local service on a non-commercial basis, ie without a view to profit, or any other service which carries passengers for hire or reward where revenue from such an operation provides financial support for the operation of the local service. The TC needs to be satisfied that there are adequate facilities for the maintenance of any vehicles operated under a community bus permit. Permits are not vehicle-specific, but only one bus may be used on any one permit, although a body may hold more than one permit. The fee for a community bus permit is £55.
A community bus must display a disc issued by the TC which is fixed so that it can be easily read from the outside of the vehicle and does not interfere with the driver’s control of the vehicle. With each permit, the TC will issue a disc containing the name of the holder of the permit, the number of the permit and the words “Community Bus Disc.” Each permit carries a unique serial number, and a corresponding disc will be issued with the same number. The permits and discs may be moved between vehicles, and thus do not carry vehicle registration numbers; but for more than one vehicle to be used at a time, the operator must be in possession of an equivalent number of permits.
Volunteer drivers of Section 22 permit vehicles with 16 seats or less are not subject to drivers’ hours rules, and the vehicles are exempt from having a tachograph. Drivers of vehicles with 9–16 seats who are employees of the permit holder are subject to GB Domestic Hours regulations. Large buses will require a tachograph if they are employed on a registered route longer than 50km; if the service is less than 50km long but does not fall into the definition of a regular service; or if the bus is used for additional purposes. If a tachograph is installed the driver will be subject to EU drivers’ hours rules.
The operation of local bus services by community buses is subject to the service registration process and fee. The TC may attach appropriate conditions to regulate the operation of a community bus, including routes and stopping places. The TC may revoke a permit at any time where he or she is dissatisfied with the maintenance arrangements for the vehicle(s), and/or there is contravention of conditions; and/or a community bus has had its use prohibited by virtue of s.9 of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981. If Traffic Regulation Conditions may be attached to a Community Bus Permit the holder must produce the permit within 14 days at the Traffic Area office. A Community Bus Service operated in London, is done so either under a London Local Service Agreement with TfL or under the authority of a London Service Permit.
There is no prohibition from Section 22 minibuses from carrying commercial advertising directly related to their use, with a view to profit or incidental to a for-profit commercial activity.
A community bus permit that was issued before 6 April 2009 doesn’t authorise the use of a large bus.
If a permit or disc is lost or becomes defaced or illegible, the issuing body may issue a duplicate. If a “lost” permit or disc is found and a duplicate has been issued, the original must be returned to the issuing body. If it has been revoked, the permit and disc must be returned to the issuing body. If the issuing body ceases to be designated, the permit and disc must be returned to the Traffic Commissioner.