'Don't panic' volunteers urged

Volunteer drivers who act as good Samaritans, transporting the elderly, sick and disabled around the region for little recompense have been urged not to panic about new legislation which is changing the way some vehicles used for such purposes have to be licensed.

Volunteer drivers who act as good Samaritans, transport-ing the elderly, sick and disabled around the region for little recompense have been urged not to panic about new legislation which is changing the way some vehicles used for such purposes have to be licensed.

But they have been encoura-ged to talk to their local groups and associations in the run-up to the law change later this year which will see some drivers and cars subject to stricter controls.

The new law dictates that private hire vehicles and drivers must have a Criminal Records Bureau check, a medical test, an operator's licence, a test which is stricter than an MoT test and a special licence plate - all of which would cost an average of around £200 a year.

The changes have been brought about because of concerns about iniquities in the taxi and private hire industry, which has allowed some businesses to exploit loopholes in the law and avoid checks on their drivers and vehicles.


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The law reforms have prompted concerns that wherever money changes hands, even if it is a small amount on an informal basis to cover part of the fuel cost of a trip, the car and driver would have to pay out for licensing.

But the majority view appears to be that as long as drivers are operating 'not for profit', they are exempt from the stringent new rules, said Andrew Campbell, who works in north Norfolk for Norwich and Norfolk Voluntary Services.

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"The lead body, the Comm-unity Transport Association, is very clear that there is no change to the legislation so long as the individual is doing it not for profit."

Mr Campbell said the various organisations were very happy to talk to each other about the issue, especially if there were concerns at any level.

Paul Gray, of the North Walsham Area Community Transport Association, said that if every volunteer driver had to be licensed and checked it would "wipe out" schemes across the UK.

But he felt there was nothing to fear from the new legislation because of the not-for-profit exemption, but urged further clarification at government level.

Tony Gent, leading licensing officer at North Norfolk District Council, said he still had concerns about the definition of a private hire vehicle and he had called a meeting at the end of February to allow all parties to come together and express their views. He was still keen to get "chapter and verse" on the definitions from the government.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "The law on exemptions from private hire vehicle licensing require-ments has been changed to improve public safety.

"Department for Transport guidance advises that this change will not affect voluntary services or those where any payment only covers expenses. However, decisions on each case will be the responsibility of the local licensing authority, and voluntary providers with any queries should contact them for advice."

The guidance is also available in full on the DfT's website at www.dft.gov.uk/ pgr/regional/taxis/ rsa06privatehirevehicles.

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