Unison and employers are demanding an urgent review of tax relief on mileage allowances for thousands of low-paid social care staff struggling to cope with soaring fuel costs.
The union says the rapid increases in recent months are having a “devastating impact” on groups such as domiciliary care staff, and have far outstripped the government-approved rate of 40p a mile for staff using their own vehicles.
Lesley Rimmer, chief executive of the UK Homecare Association, has written to Gordon Brown, and care services minister Ivan Lewis to request financial support for providers, whose capacity to deliver services is being eroded by the fuel price hikes.
She said the situation was intolerable for staff, who receive an average wage of £6.20 an hour and drive between service users’ homes daily, and warned some were being forced out of home care altogether.
The lack of support has angered Unison, whose head of local government, Heather Wakefield, urged employers to “bridge the gap between mileage rates and fuel prices when staff are using their cars for work”.
“[Unison members] will consider strikes if employers do not take action,” she said.
The average litre of petrol in the UK has risen from 97p in June 2007 to £1.18. Diesel is now £1.31 a litre on average, compared to 97.4p a year ago.
A spokesperson for the Local Government Employers, which represents 410 local authorities in England and Wales, ruled out increasing the basic mileage allowance due to poor settlements from central government and rising inflation.
He said that if the mileage allowance was set too high, councils would either have to cut services or jobs.
Under HM Revenue and Customs regulations, employers can claim tax relief on fuel allowances to staff of up to 40p a mile for the first 10,000 miles and 25p a mile thereafter.
The rate, which has remained the same since 2002, can only be changed by parliament.
Case study: It’s pretty grim out there
The Care Company in Swindon was forced to raise its mileage allowance from 27p last year to 40p in March to prevent a staffing crisis. Stephen Trowbridge, of parent company First City, said eight long-serving employees left the company in March and now work outside the home care sector, citing fuel costs as the main reason.
“It’s pretty grim out there,” he said. “Staff morale was falling every time they passed a garage and saw petrol had gone up.” As secretary of the Wiltshire Domiciliary Care Association, Trowbridge is writing to MPs to ask for domiciliary care workers to be given an “essential user rebate” on fuel duty, as haulage firms have been demanding in protests this year.
• Is your mileage allowance at work keeping pace with the rising cost of fuel? Join the debate at CareSpace