The change, which came without appropriate consultation, public notification, Ministerial or political support, will remove the ‘grandfather’ rights enabling community workers and teachers to drive a minibus from November 1.
Strangford MLA Ms Armstrong said the Department had not provided adequate notice to drivers working to deliver socially necessary transport across Northern Ireland.
“This kneejerk decision has been claimed to be on the basis of robust advice, however, it will stop the provision of access to services for older people and people with disabilities. The Department is dealing with a legal challenge by restricting access to services and limiting opportunity for older people, people with disabilities, children and isolated rural dwellers.
“The Department has failed completely to consider the consequences of their actions and as a result has not appreciated just how their actions will have a negative impact across many families, community organisations and schools across Northern Ireland.
“The Department had failed spectacularly to inform the public, meaning some volunteer drivers could face prosecution for driving a not-for-profit community bus. This lack of clarity and communication is unacceptable.
“This cross-party group will challenge Departmental officials to reconsider their proposals, which exclude local drivers from being able to drive minibuses which could be driven by counterparts from the rest of the UK and which are not in the best interests of vulnerable people across Northern Ireland.”