Community car schemes rules changes

Community car schemes in Breckland currently run without any checks or rules in place which could leave operators and the council which funds them open to potentially “unlimited” claims, bosses have said.

Community car schemes in Breckland are run without robust checks or rules in place, leaving operators and the council that funds them open to potentially "unlimited" claims, bosses have said.

Volunteer drivers of car schemes, which help get people to hospital and doctor's appointments, are able to drive people about in their private cars potentially unchecked for their suitability or even if they have a licence and insurance, a meeting was told.

While there are guidelines in place, which suggest MoT certificates, licences, insurance, tax, a CRB check, medical check and risk assessments are carried out, Breckland Council does not currently make any checks or enforcement to see if drivers meet these standards, its overview and scrutiny commission was told.

Now new rules and "robust governance arrangements" have been agreed to be put in place in Breckland to protect drivers, parish councils who operate schemes and Breckland Council, which funds them in their district.

Funding is also to be increased by £10,000 to £31,890 to help more parishes have community car schemes and to help pay for the checks they need to have to make sure drivers are suitable, after councillors on the committee supported both measures.

Mark Stokes, Breckland's director of services, said on Thursday: "The scheme is currently run in an informal manner with no contract or agreement in place.

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"There is a need for greater governance, monitoring and control procedures. We have duty of care to protect volunteers, parish councils and ourselves from liability."

Mike Horn, head of legal services at the council, warned should a driver paid by the council, through fuel allowance, be found to have indecently assaulted an infant, the liabilities would be potentially unlimited.

Councillor Gordon Bambridge welcomed the new rules: "Most districts are closing down car schemes, mostly because of governance rules.

"We are perhaps the only district in the county considering expanding our car schemes.

"This really is a bit of revolutionary thought so that drivers and parish councils could be protected in the event of the unthinkable."

The new rules are set to be tested through a new scheme due to be set up by Bawdeswell Parish Council. They would then be rolled out with consultation among other scheme operators.

Breckland has been operating car schemes for 20 years and currently has 22 running. In 2006/7 they transported nearly 13,000 people on more than 12,000 journeys.

The service is mostly

used by the elderly, but it is also used by the young and those

on a low income, mostly for medical-related issues.