A full car driving licence obtained prior to 1997 permits the holder to drive a vehicle with a maximum capacity of 16 passengers, providing this is not for hire and reward. The gross weight is not relevant.
A full car driving licence obtained after 1996 permits the holder to drive a vehicle with a maximum capacity of 8 passengers, providing the gross weight does not exceed 3500kgs.
There is a dispensation for a volunteer to drive a Minibus with a higher capacity of 16 passengers, providing the gross weight * does not exceed 3500kgs, unless the Minibus is modified for the carriage of disabled persons, when the gross weight may be as high as 4250kgs.
The definition of “modified for the carriage of disabled persons”, has not been tested in the courts, but is generally held to be a Minibus modified for the carriage of wheelchairs. This should include an electro-hydraulic tail lift or a full width, folding ramp to provide wheelchair access. Individual channel ramps are no longer acceptable on a new Minibus. The Minibus will almost certainly feature removable track mounted seats to create space for at least one wheelchair, equipment to secure the wheelchair and occupant, and other features mandated by Type Approval regulations. The additional 750kg gross weight allowance is intended to provide for all the extra necessary equipment.
With the arrival of the new regulations in October 2011 the construction weight of basic Minibuses has increased, as has the required payload allowance per passenger. Only a very few models are available with 16 seats as a new Minibus with a gross weight of 3500kgs, and registered in accordance with the law.
Other conditions apply for volunteers: the driver must be at least 21 years old and have held the licence for at least two years.
A volunteer making use of this dispensation may not tow a trailer.
This provision for volunteers may only be relied upon while driving in the UK.
Who can take advantage of the provision?
A qualifying volunteer is someone who drives a Minibus for a non-commercial organisation, for social purposes, who is not paid to drive. They are allowed to receive out of pocket expenses.
Many people taking advantage of this provision are teachers, where driving is not included as part of their contract of employment.
* Gross weight also known as Gross Vehicle weight (GVW), Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) or Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM)
A vehicle’s gross weight is shown on the chassis plate; also know as the VIN (vehicle identification number) plate.
A series of four–figure numbers are usually shown: these state the maximum permissible weight (in kilograms) on the front axle (axle 1); the maximum permissible weight on the rear axle (axle 2); the maximum permissible weight of the complete vehicle (GVW, GVM); the maximum permissible weight of the complete vehicle & trailer, when towing a trailer (Gross Train weight [GTW] or Gross Train Mass [GTM]).
The VIN or Chassis plate can be found on the inside of a front door pillar, on the base of the driver’s seat or under the bonnet on the front closing edge. The VIN / Chassis number (vehicle serial / identification number) is usually displayed here as well. This same number will be recorded on the V5 log book, although the weights are not usually shown.
The Government have produced a PDF containing more information on volunteer drivers. You can download this pdf from here Volunteer driver PDF