Council social workers ‘forced to subsidise cost of driving for work’

Unison has slammed the way social workers and other local government staff are compensated for the cost of running their cars, claiming neither the current National Joint Council allowance nor the HM Revenue and Customs mileage rates are fair.

Some local authority social workers could be forking out almost £500 from their own pockets each year to subsidise the cost of driving for work, according to Unison.

Research commissioned by the union has shown that a social worker on the National Joint Council for Local Government Services (NJC) agreed mileage rate for essential car users, travelling 11,000 miles per year in a 1,200cc car, would have to pay an additional £489 from their own wages to cover the full cost of driving for work.

This is partly because the current rates date from 2010 and do not take into account subsequent rises in petrol prices, Unison said.

Find out the mileage rates in your area using our free council job change tool for social workers

A freedom of information investigation by Community Care found a quarter of councils in England and Wales currently pay the NJC rate for essential users, which ranges from 36.9p to 50.5p per mile (up to 8,500 miles in a year), depending on the car’s engine size. A further 6% pay the rate for casual users (see box).

Mileage rates at a glance

NJC (essential user) – up to 50.5p per mile (ppm) for the first 8,500 miles, depending on engine size. Rates after 8,500 miles are lower.

NJC (casual user) – up to 65ppm for the first 8,500 miles, depending on engine size. Rates after 8,500 miles are lower.

HMRC – 45ppm for the first 10,000 miles, 25ppm thereafter.

For the full rates, visit our job change tool and choose “mileage allowance” from the drop down menu (full rates appear below the map).

However, Unison does not support switching to the rates set by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), as proposed by local government employers. Employers have this year offered a 1% pay rise for staff, as long as unions agree to changes to conditions, including replacing the current NJC rates with those recommended by HMRC. This is one of two options on the table.

“The HMRC rate does not reflect the real cost of providing a car for work,” said Gill Archer, Unison’s national officer for local government. “In 2011, it increased by 5p to its current rate of 45p per mile, but Unison’s technical advisor believes that this is still too low given the increases in petrol prices over the last few years.”

Given a choice between the two, Archer said Unison would choose the NJC rates because they include a petrol allowance based on the price per litre for unleaded petrol. This is normally increased every April based on a re-evaluation of petrol prices, although current rates have remained static since 2010.

Community Care found two out of five local authorities (43%) in England, Scotland and Wales currently pay the HMRC rate of 45p per mile (up to 10,000 miles). Of those, roughly half reduce the rate to 25p per mile for staff who cover more than 10,000 miles in a year.

This proportion has risen significantly since 2010, Unison says. Almost two-thirds (60%) of the union’s members in local government have reported that the NJC car allowances have been replaced by what Unison calls “the inadequate HMRC rates”.

Brian Walsh, joint chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ workforce development network, explained that, in some cases, the HMRC rate is actually higher than the NJC rate, which depends on engine size. He added that the HMRC rate is “administratively much easier to apply”.

Unison is calling instead for a new “green travel scheme” with rates based on the AA’s guide to motoring costs, which take into account the full costs of running a car, including petrol, tax, insurance, depreciation, repair and MOT. “Only by taking account of all the costs involved can we be sure that employees are appropriately reimbursed for the cost of their journeys,” said Archer.

But Walsh responded: “There have been recent challenges to the AA and RAC’s respective claims regarding the cost of motoring. There is no question that there have been a number of ‘spikes’ in fuel price costs over the last couple of years – and this will continue to be the case as energy sources become scarcer and more expensive. However, many modern cars are much cheaper to run than equivalent vehicles 10 years ago.”

Walsh said the most common, medium-sized vehicles (such as a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus) cost approximately 45p per mile to run, while many smaller or “eco” cars are much cheaper.

The three main unions representing local government workers, Unison, Unite and GMB, are currently negotiating with employers over the pay offer for 2013-14, including the proposal to change mileage allowances.

Why mileage rates matter to social workers

“Social workers have had a pay freeze over the past three or four years, so mileage payments are essential. My local authority has cut mileage rates. When you have a case allocated to you, you begin to dread that the children will be placed a long way from home because of the shortage of foster placements. It’s hard to make ends meet. The employers have us over a barrel; pay and conditions are a major worry for staff, but employers know we’re dedicated to the job.”

Children’s services team manager, based in London

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