Fleet News

Guest opinion: Our group aims for European harmony

No longer am I surprised that, when having set up a group to discuss just a couple of issues, many more quickly come to the surface. So it is with what we are currently describing as a European Issues Group.

Like it or not according to your politics or taste, we are deeply involved with Europe and the EU Commission’s tentacles are daily reaching deeper into both our business and private lives. If we are to manage (I’m tempted to say control), such outreach then we must do so before legislation is enacted or regulation formed. We have to be in at the design stage, so to speak. Anything later means an uphill struggle to rectify flawed or impractical laws.

Let me give you a couple of instances by way of example. Both of these are related to the UK but the principle still holds true.

Throughout the run-up to the introduction of the London Congestion Charge we were only able to be in distant dialogue with Transport for London (TfL) but at no time were we able to become actively involved in planning any detail of how the regulations would work.

The results speak for themselves. At 4.45pm on Friday, February 14, 2003, which was the weekend before the charge began on the Monday, we received a faxed letter from TfL which effectively prohibited all leasing companies from transferring penalty charge notices for not paying the Congestion Charge.

Other consequences came to light after this manifestly inept introduction. Consequences such as the problems within TfL’s back office which meant that even where hire companies had the right to transfer, the regulations were so tightly drawn and enforced as to make it virtually impossible to do so.

In contrast, I offer the Treasury’s measured and realistic approach towards changing the way that Corporation Tax allowances for cars worked. The Treasury had planned to transfer the allowances from lessor to lessee. This would have caused lease rentals to increase although if the lessee had had sufficient tax capacity he could have offset the increased costs by claiming the allowances.

Because we were fully consulted, involved and understood the practicalities of implementing such a change, we were able to prove to the Treasury that this would be neither practical nor fair. The net result was that this particular piece of regulation was amended so as to maintain the status quo in the area of allowances, before it was announced.

So, if we are to manage European issues in this way then we have to have a cohesive voice that can talk with the authority and backing of numerous organisations. As short-term car and truck rental is now virtually unrepresented in Europe, we have helped to draw together a group of national trade associations and rental companies from across the European Union. I would stress that this is not a BVRLA group. We merely provide the meeting place and of course, the coffee and sandwiches, and naturally we put our thoughts into the meetings as well.

The main purposes of the group are to bring together common interests on issues that affect the industry and to adopt a common approach to their resolution. It sounds very high-minded doesn’t it? But it’s also very practical.

When we helped to bring the group together, it was initially to discuss the problem of chargebacks on credit cards and some VAT issues, notably those surrounding the question of the place of supply. Essentially, the former is a consumer issue and so I won’t go into the details here but VAT is plainly of interest to FNN users.

We are already developing a widespread accord with card issuers across Europe and one that will include the question of collision damage waiver programmes operated by various card issuers. On VAT we have already secured a notable success in stemming a proposal that would have changed the way that overseas business renters are invoiced.

But we’ve already expanded far beyond these initial horizons as I described at the beginning. Now, we’re talking about distance selling, rental standards in southern Europe, vehicle category sizes, digital tachographs, dynamic currency conversions and an EU study into payment cards. And all this in less than one year.

With the issues we’re now discussing and those that will certainly arise, I expect the group to make a significant contribution towards making rental business across Europe better and more effective for operator and customer alike, and that of course, includes the business traveller.

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