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LETTERS to Fleet News’ editor John Maslen.

HMRC and opt-out schemes

I READ with interest the article ‘SECOPS: are you ready when the taxman calls?’ from Harvey Perkins (Fleet News, June 1). It is true to say that there have been a number of enquiries launched by HM Revenue & Customs in regard to employee car ownership schemes. These seem to arise because of the following:

  • Problems in the design of the scheme. This in many cases is despite the employer having taken professional help. We have seen significant problems in particular with how the National Insurance is calculated with this not determined by reference to earnings periods.
  • What is clearly a change of approach by HM Revenue & Customs in regard to the use of PAYE Settlement Agreements to settle the income tax and National Insurance arising on some of the benefit in kind items. There is clearly also a change of approach over what is a qualifying mileage allowance payment and the use of Approved Mileage allowance Payments. I have seen inspectors now attempting to challenge schemes that have been approved previously by HM Revenue & Customs.

    It is important, though, to say that this does not seem to be a witch hunt by HM Revenue & Customs and the approaches seem to have arisen from particular bad practices that have been brought to light or a campaign undertaken by a particular inspector. It is not in my view right to believe at this stage there is any widespread campaign and indeed HM Revenue & Customs are still involved in giving their blessing to new ECO schemes.

    I do hope that HM Revenue & Customs will use the current consultation process to come up with clear rules of what they consider to be acceptable. If then employers and their advisers adopt these any problems can be avoided going forward.

    I do agree, though, that if there are concerns with the scheme a particular employer is operating they should get advice and more importantly work with that adviser to get agreement from HM Revenue & Customs.

    ALASTAIR KENDRICK
    Tax Partner, Wilder Coe

    A worthwhile investment

    I APPLIED for a subscription to Fleet News three months ago but did not meet your criteria as we have a very small UK fleet, but lots of opted-out business drivers. After persuading my boss to pay for a subscription we have introduced changes to the way we work that will probably repay the cost of the newspaper many times over.

    MELANIE GRIGSON
    PowerBak

    Fleets need help to meet green targets

    WITH reference to the article ‘Fleets’ dismay at green grant blow’ (Fleet News, June 15), the news that in future the only assistance available will be in the form of training will, be met with extreme disappointment from the fleet industry.

    It seems as though the Government expects the fleet industry to encourage take-up of alternative fuels and technologies but is not prepared to provide direct financial assistance with the additional costs involved.

    Assistance would be better placed if aimed at the direct costs involved in use of alternative fuels and technologies, so that fleet managers are able to limit the risk and budgetary costs involved in take-up of alternative fuels.

    Given that the previous two incarnations of the Government grant system were withdrawn suddenly – firstly through lack of funding and secondly due to falling foul of EU grant legislation – it would not be surprising if the fleet industry adopted a twice bitten-twice shy attitude.

    I would like to suggest three measures which would have an almost immediate and significant effect in reducing transport emissions.

    The engine auto-stop features currently available on hybrid cars and vans could be made compulsory on all new vehicles via legislation. This would mean that all tail-pipe emissions would be stopped when vehicles aren’t actually moving.

    Government grants should be aimed at the direct additional costs involved in take-up of alternative fuels and technologies by fleets, for example the additional costs of vehicles or fuel installations.

    When the previous Powershift system was running it was popular and well used.

    Anything the Government can do to reduce the direct costs involved will be met with approval by fleets on tight financial restrictions.

    To some degree the extent of the Government grants is less important than knowing the assistance will still be in existence in the future.

    Most large fleets operate on a rolling programme of vehicle replacement. It is therefore vital that fleet managers can plan future budgetary needs, for the acquisition of alternative fuelled vehicles/technologies, in the knowledge that Government grant systems will still be in place.

    STUART HUTCHINSON
    Project manager, Alternative fuel trials

    Smokers have their hands full

    FOLLOWING on from the article ‘Single-driver company cars escape smoking ban’ (Fleet NewsNet, May 18), there is currently much debate over this issue with strong opinions held by both sides.

    However, I am driven to ask myself if I am missing something. While we see successful prosecutions for those miserable beings who sneak a bite of a chocolate bar or apple as they wait at traffic lights the only problem with smoking at the wheel appears to centre on the possibility that someone else will inhale the smoke.

    Surely the fact that one hand is occupied with a burning cylinder of tobacco rather than with the steering wheel or gear lever as appropriate is an offence in itself?

    Add to that the necessity to wind down the window to get rid of the stub or the ash and the possibility that the burning cigarette may drop onto the smoker’s clothing or skin it is a wonder that there is any time given to driving at all.

    JOHN WARDELL
    The Wright Group

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