Fleet News

Opinion: Change yes, but let's have justice for all

BRIAN Roskell, Citroen's commercial vehicle operations manager, has a message for the Governmment as it considers altering benefit-in-kind tax for van drivers.

'The new benefit-in-kind (BIK) system being proposed for commercial vehicles is currently causing much debate. The main cause for concern has been the effect of any new form of van taxation on those least able to pay it.

It is inconceivable a builder should be expected to deliver bricks and his cement mixer to a site in a hatchback car and equally as incongruous that a top executive should arrive at business meetings, complete with laptop, briefcase and freshly pressed suit in a commercial vehicle.

Any business buying company vehicles should consider that the vehicles acquired are fit for the job. The primary considerations thus need to be what load it is expected to carry and what use it will be put to. The business will also need to consider the practicality of day-to-day operation of that vehicle.

Also of current interest, when considering vehicle suitability for purpose, is the number of large, high power sports utility vehicles (SUVs) seen on congested urban streets. Larger vehicles like these are now attracting more public attention.

At the same time that these issues are current, there is an increasing awareness of the environment we live in and particularly the quality of the air we breathe.

Citroën, as a responsible vehicle manufacturer, has a duty to meet customers' practical requirements, be they business or pleasure, while minimising the environmental impact of the products sold. A taxation system which has encouraged company vehicle drivers to specify heavy, over one tonne payload crew-cab pickups or heavyweight 4x4 vehicles, is clearly environmentally undesirable. These vehicles, used for any other than their designed commercial application, are inefficient. Yet how many of them do you see pounding up and down our motorways every day as executive transport?

Clearly the van BIK taxation system is ready for reform. As an example the service engineer, working from home, driving a Berlingo van with only two seats and a load area full of racking and equipment, not unreasonably derives minimal private benefit from the use of this van. Similarly, how many large panel vans, complete with compressor on the tow hook, do you see outside the cinema on a Saturday night?

The new van BIK system needs to ensure that essential company van drivers are not unfairly penalised for the 'privilege' of caretaking the company van overnight, being on-site earlier and being on call and equipped to go anywhere at their employer's behest with the least delay. Equally, the new van tax system must encourage company car drivers to drive company cars fit for their business requirements.

We must not forget that newer company vehicles are more environmentally friendly, pollute less and are better maintained and safer than older vehicles. The BIK tax system should not encourage drivers to use unsuitable or older, more polluting, less safe vehicles just to reduce their personal tax burden.

Vehicle manufacturers invest billions in product development to meet practical and environmental requirements. Thus, the fiscal system should not be an impediment in ensuring that customers choose the best vehicle for the job.

Citroën, like other manufacturers, has significantly broadened its product range to give customers vehicles that are ever better suited to increasingly discerning individual requirements.

Every new Citroën commercial vehicle introduced has been aimed at specific, practical business requirements – not as a means of avoiding tax. The Government should recognise that manufacturers are doing their utmost to produce environmentally sound and fuel-efficient vehicles which deliver maximum efficiency in use.

Chancellor, please do not penalise the vast majority of essential van drivers for the sake of the tax avoiding actions of a few.

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