Increased competition in the UK’s fuel card market has led to innovation as suppliers bid to win larger shares of the £6.5 billion a year sector.
This has seen company car drivers able to use their fuel cards to pay for other motoring expenses such as tolls and service, maintenance and repair costs, while data created through fuel card records can ensure compliance with the HMRC over mileage payments for business use.
However, a Fleet News poll earlier this year found that, despite all these additional benefits, fleet operators’ main focus for fuel cards is pump discounts (37.5%) and network coverage (20%).
Fleet News: How do you capture fuel and mileage data to ensure that you’re compliant with HMRC requirements and that your drivers are compliant with your policies?
Paul Tate: We have an in-house system for recording mileage, which has to be signed off as part of an expense routine. Line managers verify transactions so that employees are claiming business mileage because we pay the exact pence per mile that the vehicles have actually done. We don’t pay advisory fuel rates, we pay the actual costs, and if drivers don’t fill the mileages in, then they have the cost of all fuel – for personal use as well as business – deducted from their salary. That’s an incentive for drivers to get their mileages submitted sooner rather than later.
Keith Abell: Policies are great, but only if they’re policed. If drivers take issue with that, I tell them they can read the policy the same as I can. I’ve got no discretion; go and take the conversation elsewhere. And so then it goes off to HR or the line management, or higher up the tree because you take the view that you’re on fleet; I’m not employing this person.
Fleet News: Does anybody offer fully-expensed fuel cards?
Paul Tate: I think very few companies are offering it as an incentive, as there really is no incentive unless you’re doing a huge amount of personal miles. I think people have to drive 12,000 personal miles a year before it would be a benefit.
Paul Hollick: Financially, it’s a disaster for the company and the employee, because you just end up double paying. It effectively works out about £2.30 a litre.
Fleet News: What do you do with the data that you get from the fuel cards?
Eric Bristow: We’ve got a diesel-only fleet, so I check to make sure I am being charged for diesel only and not LPG, AdBlue or unleaded petrol. We use telematics for our mileage capture, it’s pointless trying to record mileage from your fuel card. The problem with a fuel card, with all due respect to the operators at filling stations, is that you’re relying on them to input the correct information.
I’ve had cars that have done 255,000 miles in 12 months because the operators put an extra five in. I’ve only got 70 cars, but it would still take up a fair proportion of my time just to try and work out if the mileages input are valid. For us, the data has to be captured in some way from the vehicle itself rather than the fuel card.
Steven Pope: We use The Miles Consultancy. We use its data to look at CO2 emissions. It’s the responsibility of our regional operations managers to look at their outstations to see where the peaks are. Previously, we were able only to capture the data at a filling station where the operator could just key 1,234 into the system instead of the accurate mileage, and you get rubbish data. You might not notice it for a few months, but it’d be all out of kilter. We’re also trying to discourage drivers from filling up on the motorway because the fuel will be more expensive there. So you can use the data to identify the drivers buying the most expensive fuel and say, “Well, there’s a Tesco just down the road, why can’t you use that instead?”.
Aaron Powell: The fact that we do actual cost stops our drivers going to motorway service stations because it’s coming out of their own pocket.
Fleet News: For those that changed from advisory fuel rates to actual cost, how difficult was that to introduce?
Aaron Powell: We’ve only been running it for six to eight months, so we’ll know more about the savings at the end of the year. It was a lot easier to introduce than I thought because everyone was quite happy that they were going to be deducted £60 instead of £600.
Fleet News: How do you ensure compliance with your fuel policies?
Paul Tate: Submit the mileages online, that’s it. Do it, or we deduct the full amount.
Fleet News: What do you look for in a fuel card? Is it discount, or is it coverage?
Steven Pope: Ours is coverage.
Paul Tate: If you’re an international company like ourselves, we ask if there’s anything a fuel card company’s international partners can offer us.
Eric Bristow: I had a look at some resellers and they’re offering a bigger discount through Platts Plus than their list price, but the only drawback – and some people do consider it a drawback – is having multiple cards. The resellers are also saying that could also mean supermarket filling which will then please some of the drivers because they can then get their supermarket loyalty points. I don’t care how many cards the drivers carry. The invoice will come through with the flat rate, or the Platts Plus, on a single invoice, so it’s up to the drivers. They will soon migrate to wherever they prefer, whether that’s filling up when they’re doing their weekly shopping, using the filling station down the road, or ad hoc on the motorway.
Fleet News: For those who are on a more restrictive network, do you look at route deviation and driver downtime from wandering off route?
Steven Pope: Restricted networks, as long as they’re not too restricted, aren’t too bad.
Keith Abell: Some of the regions basically say ‘we can’t deviate’, so we’ve got to give them two cards so they’ve got the coverage. Another region said ‘we’re using that card and that card only because the benefits are there’, they have no problems whatsoever.
It’s purely a cultural thing because they cover lots of miles a day, so they’re going to pass a fuel station. The conversation you have in general terms is: “Well, I haven’t got a fuel station next to me, I always fill up there.” And it’s: “Ok, so where’s your normal commute?” You can map it and say you’ve got one, two, three, four or five filling stations, why don’t you use them? That’s the sort of mentality you’re dealing with. If you just take the card away and mandate it, they will find the filling station.
Paul Tate: Drivers are creatures of habit and will say they never pass alternative filling stations, but you can do a mapping exercise and demonstrate that this employee must be driving past a Shell garage, for example, every day, even if they swear black and white that they were nowhere near one.
Eric Bristow: There had to be a shift in the mindset, because they’ve now got into the habit that if they get to a quarter full and go to Tesco, they’ll start filling up rather than waiting until they’re on fumes.
Paul Tate is commodity manager at Siemens
Keith Abell is fleet manager at Integral UK
Paul Hollick is commercial director of The Miles Consultancy
Eric Bristow is fleet manager at Hobart UK
Steven Pope is fleet services manager at Morrison Plant and Fleet Services
Aaron Powell is national fleet manager at HSS Hire