Tax treatment of fire officers: chargeable benefit: provided vehicles: emergency vehicle or ordinary car
The Fire Service may provide a vehicle to a fire officer for use in travel between home and fire station and to attend incidents.
For 2004/05 onwards there is an exemption from tax for these vehicles in certain circumstances, see EIM23600.
For 2003/04 and earlier, and for later years where the vehicle is not within EIM23600, the following guidance applies.
If the vehicle is fitted with a fixed flashing light it is classed as an emergency vehicle and is considered to be unsuitable for use as a private vehicle (see EIM23140). The car benefit charge in Section 114 ITEPA 2003 does not apply to such vehicles. If the vehicle is also used for private purposes there is a residual liability to charge under Section 203 ITEPA 2003 (see EIM21615 onwards).
On the other hand, if a fire officer is provided with an ordinary saloon car, to which the driver may attach a de-mountable flashing light, the car is no different from any other except when attending an emergency. Consequently a car benefit charge applies (see EIM23015).
Boyd and Kerr v Brown (SpC333)
Two fire officers in Northern Ireland were provided with ordinary saloon cars by the Northern Ireland Fire Service. The cars were used primarily to transport the officers from their home/rented accommodation to the fire stations at which they were based and for travel within their duty areas, but they were also available for the officers to travel directly from home/rented accommodation to an incident, if they were called out whilst on standby duty. The Northern Ireland Fire Service met all the running cost of the vehicles. The officers were not permitted to use the vehicles when off duty.
Due to the security situation in Northern Ireland the cars provided to the two officers had de-mountable blue flashing lights so that they could not be identified as emergency vehicles. When attending an incident the flashing light would be placed on the roof. Although they were not recognisable as emergency vehicles, in the particular circumstances and location of this case, it was agreed that the Inland Revenue would not argue for a car benefit charge but only for a residual benefit charge under Section 203 ITEPA 2003.
The Special Commissioners found that:
- the fire station at which each officer was based was his permanent workplace
- consequently travel from home/rented accommodation to the fire station was classed as ordinary commuting (see EIM32055) and provision of a vehicle for this purpose constituted a taxable benefit
- the vehicles were provided primarily for Northern Ireland Fire Service purposes and any benefit to the officers was incidental to that
- the officers did not use the vehicles on days when they were off-duty, so the benefit charge should be apportioned on the basis of whole days, to exclude off duty days
- there should be a deduction under Section 365(1) ITEPA 2003 from the apportioned benefit charge, to reflect the proportion of business mileage relative to the private mileage on journeys between the officers’ home/rented accommodation and the fire station.
The decision in Boyd and Kerr reflected the unusual circumstances of the case. In particular:
- where a fire officer is provided with an ordinary saloon car, rather than an emergency vehicle, a car benefit charge applies normally. In Boyd and Kerr it was agreed that, instead of a car benefit charge, there was a charge under the general rules for residual benefits
- the Northern Ireland Fire Service rules did not permit the officers to use the vehicles on off-duty days and it was found as fact by the Commissioners that they did not do so. As a result the Commissioners decided to apportion the benefit. If it had been found that the cars were available for the officers to use on off-duty days, whether or not they were actually used, there would have been be no basis for an apportionment of the benefit.
The decision in Boyd and Kerr has no effect on other cases where a Fire Service employer provides a car to a fire officer, unless the same circumstances apply. We think that is unlikely.