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SURVEY SHOWS UP WEAKNESSES IN FLEET OPERATING POLICIES AND PROCEEDURES

6 May 2008

Hundreds of companies have failed to implement fleet safety initiatives, are ignoring technology that could help cut operating costs and are leaving the door open for their van drivers to receive huge tax bills from HM Revenue & Customs.

The worrying picture of inaction comes from a survey undertaken in March 2008 of 504 fleet decision-makers by Northgate Vehicle Hire, Britain’s largest vehicle rental company, which operates a fleet of 68,500 vehicles from 90 outlets across the UK branch. The company is a part of Northgate plc, recently recruited as a Driving for Better Business Champion.

Phil Moorhouse, managing director of Northgate Vehicle Hire, said: “Our survey shows up significant weaknesses in the policies and procedures of many companies. It is of paramount importance that businesses get to grips with these issues as quickly as possible.”

Driver Safety

More than half of the fleet decision-makers surveyed (51%) say their at-work drivers have not undertaken a risk assessment as part of their employers’ occupational road risk management strategy.

With the Government, police and Health and Safety Executive increasingly taking initiatives to crackdown on the number of road crashes involving at-work drivers, best practice suggests that all at-work drivers should undergo an assessment to measure their risk exposure and their attitude and behaviour when behind the wheel.

While 210 fleet decision-makers (42%) said their at-work drivers had completed a risk assessment, alarmingly 36 people (7%) didn’t know.

With the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act now implemented, fleet owners face even more pressure to ensure they implement a raft of at-work driving duty of care initiatives.

It is a legal essential for all companies to carry out an assessment of the risks to the health and safety of all employees, while they are at work - and that includes driving - and to other people who may be affected by their work activities. It is also a legal requirement to review risk assessments so they remain ‘live’.

The starting point for directors of firms that employ people who drive on business and have yet to implement occupational road risk management policies should be the Department for Transport/Health and Safety Executive’s document Driving at work - Managing Work-related Road Safety’ guidance - accessible here.

Mr Moorhouse said: “Every week around 200 road deaths and serious injuries involve someone at work. Risk assessments should be part of an all-embracing at-work driving duty of care strategy to help cut the carnage on our roads. The benefits to business, employees and society at large would be enormous.”

Telematics

An increasing number of commercial vehicle operators are fitting telematics devices to vehicles in a bid to improve productivity and journey scheduling, keep a lid on operating costs and ever-rising fuel bills, improve driver safety and meet increasingly tough occupational road risk management legislation.

Almost a fifth of fleet decision-makers surveyed (23%) said they had introduced in-vehicle telematics system, but the vast majority (77%) have not turned to the latest technology to aid journey scheduling, travel management, safety and keep costs under control, particularly in the wake of ever-rising fuel prices.

Mr Moorhouse said: “Real world evidence from our customers suggests that monitoring their vehicles by fitting them with our in-cab Vehicle Monitoring technology increases productivity by around 15% with similar improvements to profitability.”

Northgate’s Vehicle Monitoring uses the latest satellite technology to track the movements of a vehicle by picking up signals from the transmitter and receiver box inside. Data is then relayed via the internetto any desktop PC where the user can view it, by using a secure password system.

The Vehicle Monitoring system can show a host of information, including the position of vehicles at any time, the time taken to complete journeys and how long the vehicle spends at a particular location.

Such management reports provide fleet operators with a complete audit that helps them ensure optimum vehicle operating efficiency and meet health and safety-related legislation. This includes meeting working time obligations and enables them to analyse driver behaviour, so providing a risk profile of employees when they are behind the wheel.

Benefit-in-kind tax

Twelve months after benefit-in-kind tax for the ‘unrestricted’ private use of a company van increased to £3,000, almost half of employers (46%) have failed to put in place robust systems to prove to HM Revenue & Customs that employees are exempt from any tax change.

While, a third of fleet decision-makers questioned (33%) have taken steps in line with HMRC recommendations, 21% of those asked were unsure about any actions.

Mr Moorhouse said: “HMRC’s rules are very clear. To prove exemption from the tax charge HMRC says that employees should keep detailed mileage records, sign an agreement about van use with their employer or have use of the van written into their contract of employment.

“It is not a company’s responsibility; it is the driver’s responsibility. But any good employer should take action to safeguard their drivers from the increased tax charge.”

Since April 6 last year, the scale charge for ‘unrestricted’ private use of a van has been £3,000 - up from £500. There is also an additional £500 charge for employer-provided fuel used privately.

Under the rules, HM Revenue & Customs has said that:

·Home to work is not classed as private use so there will be no tax charge

  • Van drivers, on their way to work, can still stop at their local newsagent for a paper, or drop their children off at school without incurring a tax charge
  • Using a van to take an old mattress or other rubbish to a tip once or twice a year will be ignored for tax purposes
  • But taking the van to do the weekly supermarket shop, or using it outside of work for social activities or to take the family on holiday will incur a private use tax charge.

One aid to proving to HMRC that employees do not clock-up private mileage in their company vans is use some form of telematics technology.

Mr Moorhouse said: “It is imperative that detailed mileage records are kept of all journey details. Our Vehicle Monitoring telematics system enables data to be efficiently recorded to stop drivers paying hundreds of pounds in benefit-in-kind tax which may not in fact be due.”

ABOUT NORTHGATE PLC

Northgate plc, quoted on the London Stock Exchange and a FTSE 250 company, is Europe’s leading light commercial vehicle rental business with extensive operations in the UK, Republic of Ireland and Spain.There are plans to extend this coverage into new markets.

In the UK and Ireland, Northgate has a network of 21 local hire companies operating from some 90 depots with a rental fleet in excess of 65,000 vehicles, most of which are light commercial vehicles.

The company’s core business has been to provide business and corporate customers with NORFLEX – a completely flexible vehicle rental package which gives customers the ultimate freedom in managing their vehicle fleet without any contractual commitment or early termination penalties backed up by the largest support infrastructure offered by any UK rental company

Since developing NORFLEX as a market-leading vehicle rental brand, Northgate has also extended its service offering to include:

  • Fleet Technique, which manages on behalf of fleet owners the maintenance and administration for more than 15,000 vehicles. More information can be found at www.fleet-technique.co.uk
  • Van Monster, which operates from six main sites offering retail and trade customers a wide range of quality used vans with some 1,500 vehicles in stock most of which are less than three-years-old.For further information go to www.vanmonster.com
  • easyVan is a low cost van rental partnership between Northgate and easyCar providing more than 120 convenient locations through the UK. Visit easyVan.com for more details.

For more information on the Northgate Group please go to www.northgateplc.com or contact:

Ashley Martin (telephone 01733 390691 or 07801 434338) or Arthur Dalziel (0121 445 6633 or 07775 751596) at AWD Communications Ltd.

Ross Clarkson, marketing director, Northgate, on 01325 467558 or 07850 588721 ross.clarkson@northgateplc.com