Fuel allowance increase for Midlothian Council workers

Council workers in Midlothian will be given a 35 per cent increase in fuel allowance to bring them into line with NHS staff.

Midlothian Council this week agreed to introduce a temporary increase in mileage payments from 45p a mile to 61p for the first 3,500 miles claimed annually and backdate it to April.

The decision came after health bosses revealed carers in the county were being forced to ditch their cars and walk to appointments because of the cost of fuel.

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A virtual meeting of Midlothian Council yesterday (Tuesday) heard that last year council staff claimed back 876,000 miles driven using their own cars – 530,000 of them were by health and social care workers.

Midlothian Council's HQ, Midlothian House, Dalkeith.

Council leader Kelly Parry (SNP) said she had been upset to hear at a meeting of Midlothian Integration Joint Board (IJB) earlier this month that care workers were unable to afford fuel.

At that meeting Midlothian’s head of primary care and older people’s services Grace Cowan said it had become too expensive for some workers to use their cars for work.

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And she said carers faced more hardship because while their NHS colleagues had been given a temporary increase in their mileage allowance, those employed by the council had not.

NHS Scotland introduced a temporary four month rise in fuel allowances in April with a 5p increase from 56p a mile to 61p for the first 3,500 miles a year and 20p to 25p for all additional miles.

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Ms Cowan said: “We have staff moving from using a car to get between service users and having to become walkers because of the cost of fuel for them.

“We have brought in some additional pool cars to try and alleviate pressures on staff but continue to see a pressure from people moving from driving to walking, people need longer between visits and we continue to monitor the situation.”

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At yesterday’s council meeting Councillor Parry said: “I was upset to hear at the last IJB how some staff were struggling to get to work, struggling to get between care placements, which were then taking longer, some staff trying to do it by foot which is wholly unacceptable.”

The council heard council workers were able to claim the HMRC advisory rate of 45p for the first 10,000 miles annually and 25p for additional miles annually.

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The new temporary rate will match the NHS rise with workers able to claim 61p a mile for the first 3,500 miles and 25p for additional miles.

Council officers said that if it was assumed no employees claimed more than 3,500 miles a year, it would equate to an annual increase in reimbursements of £140,000.

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And they said the number of miles claimed by workers last year was around half of what was claimed in 2018 to 2019 when 1.7 million miles were reimbursed.

Councillors asked officers to write to HMRC and the local MP urging them to look at increasing the tax threshold on mileage which sits at 45p a mile for the first 10,000 miles and means workers face paying tax on extra allowance.

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Councillor Derek Milligan welcomed the move to increase the mileage rate for workers even temporarily but said it may become a longer solution saying: “There is no indication of costs going down.”

He said: “If fuel continues to rise this is not about an increase for staff, it is making sure they can pay for fuel to do their jobs. We need to make sure we are on top of that.”

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Mr Milligan also asked officers to work with health bosses to ensure the council’s own pool of electric vehicles was made available to priority workers.

He said: “We need to ensure we are doing all we can to ensure the council fleet gives priority to essential staff first and foremost and that they have as much access as it is possible to give them.”

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And Councillor Willie McEwen also called for HMRC to look at the tax threshold on mileage.

He said: “This service could not be offered as well as it is in Midlothian without our operatives using their own vehicles so I would urge the tax threshold to be increased to ensure they are receiving the full allowance.”

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Councillors asked officers to look for a way to make sure backdated mileage payments due to workers under the new rate could be paid to them before the end of July.