Cambridgeshire MP Calls For Tax Breaks For On-Call Fire Crews

MP Steve Barclay is set to lobby ministers in a bid to change the tax rules for on-call fire fighters.

The move comes after he met with representatives from Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service in the constituency office on Friday to discuss recruitment issues.

Group Commander Gary Mitchley explained that retained firefighters are paid a £2,000 a year retention fee. But many of them then have to pay 40 per cent tax on the money because of their income from their full-time employment.

They are paid an hourly fee of £13 to attend incidents and again are taxed on it.

Attracting new recruits is a real issue especially in Cambridgeshire and Commander Mitchley, who attended the meeting with Area Commander Nick Foster and Manea firefighter Mark Milner, said the tax issue does not help the situation as people feel it is not worth the effort if they lose nearly half the extra income.

Manea Fire Station is currently struggling to survive because it cannot attract enough volunteers to man the service and all three fire representatives felt there was a need to do something to help boost recruitment.

Commander Mitchley said people signing up for the Territorial Army, which runs on a similar volunteer basis, are paid a higher retention fee and it is tax free.

"Another issue is that businesses who allow staff, literally at the drop of a hat, to dash out to attend an incident are losing money too. It would be good if there could be some kind of tax incentive to help encourage businesses to support people who join the retained fire service," said Commander Mitchley.

There are currently 20,000 on-call fire fighters who keep our communities safe nationally which means that full tax relief on the retention fee would cost the treasury, at most, £16m.

Mr Barclay agreed to lobby for tax breaks for businesses and for on-call fire fighters and is planning to write to Chancellor George Osborne's Personal Parliamentary Secretary to raise the issue.

"It strikes me that this is something that seriously needs to be looked at. I think there should be financial incentives to encourage people to do the right thing like sign-up to be an on-call firefighter and that businesses should be helped too.

There would be a cost of around £16m to the treasury, but in government finance terms that is a drop in the ocean.

"People joining the Territorial Army don't have to pay tax on their extra earnings and I will be pushing for our volunteer firefighters to enjoy the same treatment. This area's fire service relies very heavily on retained crews, so it is vital that we do everything we can to help recruit more volunteers," said Mr Barclay.

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Cambridgeshire's volunteer fire-fighters are not called volunteers (or retained) but "On-call firefighters".  They have to live or work within 5 minutes of the on-call fire station. The on-call officers are paid, fully trained and qualified firefighters who serve their communities. They respond via a pager.

The majority of the on-call firefighters (around 250 in Cambs), all have other employment/family commitments and fit firefighting around these.

At the moment, the stations that are struggling to recruit and are in need of more on-call firefighters include: Manea, St Ives, Huntingdon, Soham, St Neots, Ely, Sawston, Thorney and Kimbolton.

Each firefighter is paid a retaining fee and receive an hourly rate for training, drill nights and incidents attended.