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HMRC internal manual

Employment Income Manual

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Car benefit: meaning of unsuitable for use as a private vehicle: emergency vehicles

Section 115(1) ITEPA 2003

The guidance on this page expands on the guidance at EIM23135 about the meaning of unsuitable for use as a private vehicle.

In Gurney v Richards (62TC287) a Chief Fire Officer was provided with a Ford Sierra that was fitted with a fixed flashing blue light. The Court accepted that this made it a type of vehicle not commonly used as a private vehicle (see EIM23125).

It was also unsuitable to be used as a private vehicle because the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations make it illegal for members of the public to use on the road a vehicle with a fixed flashing light. There are similar restrictions within the Road Vehicle (Construction and Use) Regulations governing the type of vehicles that can carry two-tone horns and sirens.

Vehicles can only be fitted with flashing blue lights and audible warning devices such as sirens if they are emergency vehicles. Emergency vehicles are defined in the regulations to include vehicles used for fire brigade, ambulance or police purposes.

Where a vehicle that would otherwise be treated as a car for car benefit purpose is an emergency vehicle because it has blue flashing lights and/or audible warning devices, you can accept that it is of a type not commonly used as a private vehicle and unsuitable to be so used. The car benefit charge will not then apply. However, if the vehicle is also used for private purposes, there will be a residual liability to charge under Section 203 ITEPA 2003 (see EIM21630 onwards) unless the specific exemption below applies.

In other cases, the fact that a car has been modified in some way will not make it either illegal or unsuitable for use as a private vehicle. In particular, the fact that a car is usually kept loaded with goods or equipment does not mean that it is unsuitable for use as a private vehicle if all that is necessary to make it suitable is to unload the items in question.

Specific exemption from 2004/05 in specified circumstances

Certain emergency vehicles are exempt from tax from 2004/05 if the specified conditions concerning the vehicle, the employee and the use of the vehicle are all met. See EIM23600 for full details.