Charity hopes for tax break

The Great North Air Ambulance pictured leaving Hartlepool to take the casualty to James Cook hospital.

The Great North Air Ambulance pictured leaving Hartlepool to take the casualty to James Cook hospital.

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A LIFE-SAVING charity could gain a tax break on fuel duty if campaigners get their way.

The Treasury has agreed to explore reimbursing charitable air ambulances – such as the Great North Air Ambulance which operates in Hartlepool and east Durham – for the VAT they pay on the fuel.

In a House of Commons debate triggered by a petition with almost 150,000 signatures, MPs united in the call for action saying some “very valid issues” had been raised.

The move would cost less than £200,000, but would provide a welcome boost to air ambulance services which rely on public donations to keep functioning.

European rules prevent the Government from exempting air ambulance fuel from VAT, but ministers would be allowed to provide grants equivalent to the cost of the tax, the Commons heard.

Tory Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, said that in 1977 the RNLI service was exempted from paying VAT on marine diesel, but as the air ambulances were not in existence at the time no similar deal was struck.

He said that was the reason the air ambulances were in this “anomaly” now.

Mr Opperman said: “Healthcare would be jeopardised without this charitable service.

“The sums of money involved that the Treasury would have to find are relatively slight, they are certainly considerably less than £200,000 a year.”

But, Financial Secretary Mark Hoban said the exemption would need a change in EU legislation with unanimous agreement from all 27 members, which may prove “exceptionally difficult”.

The minister did confirm that “the Treasury will carry out its own review”.

He added: “The best chance of a review is through work being done by the Department of Health on a level playing field for providers.

“However, if this doesn’t fully cover the issue then the Treasury will conduct its own separate review.”

A spokesman for the air ambulance service described the support as “fantastic”.

He told the Hartlepool Mail: “It is fantastic to see such strong cross-party support for the aims of the petition and we are delighted that the Treasury minister agreed to review the situation.

“We hope that the strength of feeling shown, both by members of the public and MPs, can lead to VAT on our fuel costs to be reimbursed in the future.

“We would like to thank everyone involved in the campaign – if successful, this money will save lives.”