Fleet News

Battle looms for fleets over vehicle-tracking proposals

THE fleet industry’s position on the Government’s pay-as-you-go road charging plan is clear: ‘Include us in the consultation and listen to what we have to say.’

The industry is keen to address fears that company car drivers will be an easy target under the plans and could end up footing the bill for the development and launch of the technology needed for such a grand scheme.

The project – which is at least 10 to 15 years away – will work by fitting black boxes into all vehicles and then using satellites to monitor their usage.

As reported on FNN last week charges could top £1.34 per mile for busy roads during peak times and 2p per mile for less busy roads at quiet periods. The new road pricing scheme would replace road tax and fuel duty.

ACFO director Stewart Whyte said it was vital that the fleet industry was consulted about the launch of a pay-as-as-you-drive scheme.

He added: ‘The fleet and business communities buy the majority of new cars and vans in the UK and typically drive higher mileages than private motorists. Therefore, the businesses we represent must play a huge role in the discussion going forward.

‘We are not asking for unique or exceptional treatment on behalf of our members in respect of the road pricing debate. We are merely pointing out the practical reality of a system that the academics probably do not understand.’

Tax experts are warning employers that they face significant impact from road-charging plans.

Ernst & Young director Alastair Kendrick said: ‘Apart from the potential benefit-in-kind arising to employees from the installation of the black box in a company car, company cars are generally owned or leased by the employer.

‘This raises the question of whether the mileage records would belong to the employer or the employee. One assumes it will be the employer since they will be footing the bill for the pay-as-you-go charges. ‘Spy-in-the-cab’ technology has been considered before as a way of tracking private mileage for company car taxation but was ruled out by the Inland Revenue (now HM Revenue and Customs) because giving employers access to the resulting records would be likely to represent a breach of employees’ human rights.

‘There is every indication that the same problems would arise with these proposals.’ The plan also raises concerns that some employees may refuse to work certain hours because it means travelling at peak times during rush hour.

Kendrick added: ‘Other employees may choose to work longer hours to beat the early and late rush, resulting in possible issues with the Working Time Directive.’

The overall bill for business motorists could top £70 billion a year under such a scheme, according to leasing company Masterlease.

Managing director Garry Hobson added: ‘This doesn’t include the cost to business of administering the scheme. As the registered owner of the vehicles, leasing companies could face enormous administration bills if they have to pay and recharge the bills to clients but until we know more details this impact is unquantifiable.’

Hobson is also calling for proper consultation with the fleet industry on a scheme he claims will not only change how people travel for business but where they live and work.

He said: ‘For example, if someone is travelling 60 miles a day to and from work on a busy motorway, their journey could become unfeasible under the proposed scheme’ Shadow transport secretary Alan Duncan is calling for any road pricing scheme to be an ‘alternative and fair way of raising revenue’.

He said: ‘Any new scheme should not be a vehicle for more stealth taxes.’

What the experts think

‘In transport, it makes sense to look years ahead. There is no harm in saying we have to look again at congestion, because we have 24 million cars in this country and we are not building more road space. It is a rational idea to use road pricing. But can it work? And is this a plan secretly to clobber motorists with higher taxes. That is one concern.’
Alan Duncan, Shadow transport secretary

‘The Government has already recognised that fleet cars and vans and employees’ own cars used on work-related journeys are highly compliant with legislation and the fleet industry should not be penalised for being law abiding.’
Stewart Whyte, ACFO director

‘If business has to pay the cost for travelling there is only one place that the extra costs end up. On the price of goods and services. Does that benefit anybody?’
Tony Leigh, ACFO chairman

‘Employers may find that employees refuse to work the required hours because to do so would mean travelling on busy routes at peak times.’
Alastair Kendrick, Ernst & Young

‘Congestion costs the UK £15 billion a year and the EC predicts this will double in the next decade. Road pricing is essential but I don’t think the Government has yet made the full case for it.’
Professor Tony May, chairman, Royal Academy of Engineering transport working group

‘Road-user charging has the potential to make a real difference if used as part of a range of measures. The question is whether this difference is to the benefit or detriment of the environment and only Government has the power to ensure it isn’t the latter.’
Richard Tarboton, Energy Saving Trust head of transport

‘These proposals are so full of holes and problems that we cannot afford to take seriously the proposers. That they have the support of the Secretary of State for Transport is staggering. Mr Darling must be replaced and the Department for Transport subjected to intense scrutiny.’
Paul Smith, Founder of the Safe Speed campaign

‘Motorists must be protected against excessive charges set by governments, central and local, to raise money. Charges must be fair and transparent and overseen by an independent regulator. This is the only way to ensure trust and public acceptance of this important development.’
Edmund King, RAC Foundation executive director

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