Out-of-date mileage rates are driving workers into poverty

Research shows that the ‘mileage gap’ is costing NHS, social care, police and local government employees up to £6,000 a year. Janey Starling reports

                                                                                                Illustration: Tamara-Jade Kaz

Out-of-date mileage rates are leaving frontline workers out of pocket, with some of the lowest-paid workers losing up to £6,000 a year, UNISON can reveal.

Using UNISON data, The RAC Foundation, a transport policy and research organisation, has calculated that approved mileage allowance payments (AMAPs) should be 63.4p per mile, a significant increase on the existing HMRC rate of 45p, which has not been updated since 2011.

The ‘mileage gap’ – the difference between what workers can claim back and what the RAC Foundation calculates the costs are – is costing NHS, social care, police and local government employees up to £6,000 a year.

Working as a social worker is stressful enough as it is

One in five UNISON members use a car for work. The majority of these are social care and local government workers in community-facing roles who drive to visit clients or patients in their homes, or to check that vulnerable residents or children are safe. The median salary of a public service worker required to drive for work is £22,499.

UNISON member Adya is a social worker in Birmingham who has a one-year-old child. She says: “I am having to deny myself a lot of things to ensure I can drive into work, visit clients and make a difference. Sometimes I’ll go to bed having eaten just a yoghurt, because I need to make sure my child has the best I can afford of everything.

“Working as a social worker is stressful enough as it is, without having to check my fuel every morning before I leave, hoping and praying I can afford that day’s visits. It is leaving me with sleepless nights.”

Adya is one of many. According to UNISON data, more than two in five UNISON members who use their car for work are skipping meals and one in five are avoiding cooking hot food, in order to cut down on living costs.

How the mileage gap affects different workers

  • NHS worker on Agenda for Change rates driving two hours daily: £6,087.64 a year out of pocket
  • Care worker on HMRC rates driving two hours daily: £5,127.04 out of pocket
  • Local government worker on NJC rates driving two hours daily: £6,406.32 out of pocket

Outside of the main HMRC rates, alternative benchmarks exist for public service workers within their collective pay agreement terms and conditions, and across NJC and NHS Agenda for Change terms. In Scotland, local government rates are set by each local authority.

For NHS staff on Agenda for Change terms, mileage is paid at 59p per mile for the first 3,500 miles and 24p per mile over 3,500 miles.

However, Anne, a child health assistant in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland, said the 3,500 mile cap needs to be addressed, as well as the mileage rates.

She says: “I spend my days driving to around six homes per day. Some months I’m doing 400 miles, and some over 600. The mileage calculations run from the tax year, so the first six months are fine. But when I hit December, I’ve gone over 3,500 miles and I’m onto the lower rate of mileage. Fuel-wise I’m spending more than what I’m getting paid and it’s not enough.”

Photograph of a man at the wheel of a car – just a hand at the wheel and a view of a motorway

It’s frustrating being out of pocket and seeing your money depleted by working life

In Northern Ireland, the health minister Robin Swann announced a temporary increase in mileage rate payments for health trust staff, so that miles driven over 3,500 miles will be reimbursed at 30p per mile up until September 2023.

However, Anne says that she hasn’t seen this uplift put into practice. “There’s been no adjustment. It’s frustrating being out of pocket and seeing your money depleted by working life.”

UNISON member Carmella is a community nurse in Rutland. Her job is costing her £400 a month in fuel. Though she’s spoken to her managers and now works from home two days a week, she spends an average of £50 each driving day on petrol.

“We are paid so much a mile for fuel, but this has not changed in the 12 years I have been working in the community,” she says.

“I am having to cut back on food. Luckily it’s summer, so I can prepare meals that don’t need much cooking. I am worried that I will not be able to pay for the fuel to put in my car, to do my job.”

UNISON is campaigning for the government and employers to take urgent action to increase mileage rates.

UNISON’s recommendations for government

  • increase mileage rates, now, to 63.4p per mile, and commit to a quarterly review and recalculation to coincide with Advisory Fuel Rate calculations*;
  • restructure AMAPs to raise the cap from 3,500 to 10,000 miles – and ensure mileage rate tiers are removed in NJC and Agenda for Change terms too;
  • take urgent action on public sector pay and low wages, so that staff are not in such a vulnerable financial situation again;
  • invest in a public sector Electric Vehicle (EV) fleet rollout, ensuring the funding is available to public bodies to offer all grey fleet (meaning cars that are owned by the employee but used for work purposes) drivers the option to use an EV to drive between clients or sites;
  • explore introducing a grey fleet scrappage scheme similar to the Mayor of London’s ultra lower emission zone (ULEZ) scheme that supports low-income drivers to scrap the highest polluting vehicles.

* the rates set by government to assist businesses in reimbursing or being reimbursed for fuel costs of company cars.

While workers wait for central government to take action, a number of public sector employers have already increased mileage rates, including North Derbyshire Mental Health Trust, which has increased the rate for mileage up to 3,500 miles from 56p to 71p.

In Hounslow, UNISON secured an increase in car mileage rates to 65p a mile for the first 10,000 miles and 45p thereafter. UNISON Hounslow Local Government branch secretary Bill Reed explains how that was achieved.

“In May 2022, petrol prices were rapidly increasing and workers were questioning whether the council would increase rates. We submitted a backdated claim for 55p on behalf of 800 members and, while waiting for the council to respond, workers started submitting mileage claims with the rate we were asking for, which put good pressure on.

“The council replied four months later, offering 65p per mile, without backpay, and members accepted. It’s made a huge difference to people.”

Mr Reed describes how vital it is to reframe how mileage costs are viewed: “It’s not an allowance or a grant, it’s a repayment from the council to us, for them using our cars for their business.”

Some of our members had made suggestions about potentially leaving their job

In Knowsley, UNISON pushed for a temporary 38% uplift in mileage rates to 50.5p per mile for essential car users and 65p per mile for casual car users, between August 2022 and March 2023.

UNISON Knowsley branch secretary James Robinson says: “It started from members coming to us and asking what the union could do with the rising fuel prices. We ran a survey on how the fuel price increases were affecting members and approached the council saying that we’d be filing a collective grievance on behalf of 1,556 members.

“We managed to secure that increase at a time when fuel spiked almost overnight for people. Some of our members had made suggestions about potentially leaving their job [for one] where they didn’t have to use their car, so it did a job of retaining those staff as well.”

For branches that want to take matters into their own hands, UNISON has produced a  guide on bargaining for mileage rates.

A failure to act now risks worsening the already dire staffing crisis

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea comments: “Mileage rates are woefully out of date. No one should pay a penalty effectively for doing their job, least of all those providing vital services.

“Petrol prices have skyrocketed. Care workers, nurses and other frontline employees can barely make their incomes stretch to cover the basics, let alone the costs of using their vehicles for work.

“The government must tackle low pay now, not threaten to hold public sector wages down. Essential staff shouldn’t be out of pocket for going to work. A failure to act now risks worsening the already dire staffing crisis.”

Steve Gooding, director of The RAC Foundation, says: “We know that some of our most important workers – those employed in health and social services, and in supporting roles, often working outside ‘normal’ office hours – need to drive their cars for work, but are being left out of pocket by the failure of ministers to sanction an uplift in the amount per mile they can receive tax-free for getting around to do their job.”

Last month, UNISON hosted an event in Parliament, ahead of a Westminster Hall debate, to present these research findings to MPs. The union will continue to lobby the government on this in the lead-up to the autumn statement later this year.


37 thoughts on “Out-of-date mileage rates are driving workers into poverty

  1. Roger Lewis says:

    It’s an outrageous scandal that the higher the mileage workers have to travel in their cars, the more out of pocket we are. It’s a financial disincentive or penalty for doing our work. We should be paid properly. No Government tax excuses. They are clever people. Sort it out!

  2. Justin Fudge says:

    I’m pretty sure MPs will be claiming a mileage rate in excess of 46p per mile. This simply doesn’t cover the fuel costs anymore, let alone wear and tear. It’s another stealth tax on public sector workers yet nothing ever changes. Taken for granted feels about right!

  3. Debbie Pink says:

    I am a community care worker and have noticed the increase in the fuel I need to do my job. We have not had an increase in our mileage costs for twelve years, yet the fuel prices have vastly been inflated. It’s costing me more and more to travel and use my car not to mention the cost of repairs to my vehicle due to the road surfaces.

  4. Dave Wright says:

    As a social care worker now retired we used to get 10p a mile for using our own cars and wait for it. . . We didn’t get travelling time from one client to the next. Some of my clients lived eight miles apart so the twenty minutes or so journey time wasn’t paid to us. Cheeky or what?

  5. lynn goulding says:

    We have to purchase Business Insurance before we can claim any millage we have to do to attend meetings or training in our own vehicles.

  6. Mary Powell says:

    In risk assessments we try to remove the risk forst before trying to alleviate and risks whic cannot be removed. Driving is a risk to the planet as well as to individual workers. It would be more useful if UNISON campaigned to reduce the need for staff to drive cars between locations. In some cases it is unavoidable but UNISON should be encouraging a more creative approach where possible.

    This article does not mention cycle mileage rates. Better investment in public transport benefits us all. Scrappage schemes are a good start but not enough, The whole country needs to come under ULEZ.

    After going around in a couple of circles I managed to encourage my employer to pay the HMRC approved cycle mileage rate of 20p per mile. Bikes need maintenance too and I could do my work travel on a bike, with occasional train use. Be a bit more creative and get people out of their metal death boxes.

  7. Damian says:

    It costs me nearly £50 every two weeks to get to work in fuel.
    And I’m underpaid as it is.

  8. Christine heron says:

    I have been using my car for over 18 years I agree wee should be getting more

  9. Teresa Whiteside says:

    Sometimes office based, other times driving to schools. I use my car to drive around to these schools, we get the .45p fuel allowance but have to take off the commute to your base before that kicks in. So some days I’m driving between schools, using my car but don’t qualify for the allowance as the first 36 miles on any day does not count. The wear and tear on my car is enormous, often on very rural roads with horrendous pot-holes so I totally agree that the allowance should be raised but an annual users allowance should also be paid for people who slip through the cracks and receive virtually nothing. I’m still using my car to do my job.

  10. Sheila says:

    We are also taxed on that 45p per mile

  11. Trevor Davison says:

    The mileage rate for EV has not been mentioned. As an essential car user with a EV through the salary sacrifice scheme I am only entitled to 9p a mile, plus I have to deduct my commute to and from the office (20 mile round trip) even if I don’t go to the office from any daily claim. So I can do 30 miles a day and only be able to claim for 10 of them. The whole scheme is a farce.

  12. alan boyer says:

    This needs to change urgently, it was bad enough when the price of diesel was over £1.90 and i’m sure i’m not on my own but it was costing me money to do my job, surely that’s not right, insurance has gone up one third, servicing has gone up tyres etc have all increased but not the mileage,

  13. Debbie says:

    Yes I’m in total agreement, I came in as keyworker.Where the bank was obviously more money .Quickly offered to go onto a contact with Emas ,meant lower hourly rate .No mileage and the introduction of minimal sick pay .
    Less benefits on the lowest wage band in the NHS. Which is quite disheartened as an individual to think your inclusive and as important part ot that team and framework .Doesn’t show in the benefits or bonus ,only if you split and move onto a bank contract To get enhanced benefits with the cost of living , stressful

  14. david johnston says:

    the last time milage was looked at was 2013 this milage is paid to cover not just fuel but suppose to be wear and tear to your car the argument from management is that fuel costs are dropping but puncture repairs and tyres and genral repairs are sky rocketing . i work with in a community team and can tell by my yaerly mot i am roughly doing 6500 mile a year so thats half the year paid at a lesser rate than i am normally

  15. Jo says:

    Also for consideration are the varying petrol prices. For instance garages set their fuel prices in relation to other garages in the area. I live in Blackburn and within this pricing radius sits Tesco who are charging 10p a litre more for fuel than Tesco in Liverpool and this is due to there being two Euro garages in the radius of the Blackburn Tesco with the Euro Garages being classed as ‘services’ as they are close to the M65. People are being discriminated against because of where they live and this crazy price setting, before a work journey is undertaken.

  16. This is a different spin when I start work with our local NHS (I can’t drive) I have to rely on taxis in a month I can spend on average £50 which it may not be much to some I work as a part time cook and there is bus fairs £15.50 a week the NHS I work for has the worst bus service what help can unison do to help

  17. M Yu says:

    Our only car has been a small EV for eight years. As a teaching assistant I do not have to claim mileage for work very often, but when I do, my county council is so backward in its approach to electric vehicles (this also extends to the public provision of charging points which has been dire throughout our car ownership) that it still does not have an option for the school’s business manager to claim for my BEV mileage, despite the huge increases in energy costs.

  18. Al says:

    It’s a dire situation for care workers in London, they now have to find extra £12.50 per day to drive to work due to the ULEZ expansion if their cars are not compliant!

  19. CS Farnworth says:

    Being one who has rarely been put in such a position as to qualify to claim “Mileage”. I can not comment as to the fairness of the current system. However what did surprise me, is that on receipt of the recent claim I did make and for a course my employer (collage) wanted me to do. I almost received more in mileage than I was paid for the day. (LSA).

  20. Murry Evans says:

    Why is every one on different rates? I get the lower end of mileage allowance 56p for the first 3000 miles then 22p, it is pretty rubbish for the last 6 months when it drops.
    I feel 56p is a waste as anything over 45p is taxable, so I don’t get 56p, I get 54p.
    I would rather have a lower rate of 45p for all miles over 12months as this would not leave me short and I am not paying extra tax so that I drive my car to carry out my role.
    The mileage rates have not been uplifted for a lot of years while the price of fuel has doubled, it is not fair.

  21. Im in homecare and walk but sometimes the service users are so far apart and especially in Dark nights in the winter i am forced to use my own car. I work for my local Council and we do not get paid mileage at all. Its either be out of pocket to work or walk , get soaked fall ill and end up off work with chest infections. You can’t win its so unfair.

  22. Steven back says:

    Hi I live in Clacton, I work nhs Broomfield hospital. My average fuel bill is 380 pcm.i average 5,000 a year fuel bill,I have never been asked about fuel help..its a case of tough luck by the people who run the nhs,old people in grey suits,it needs a major shake up.but it won’t because they all help each other ,as they ate creaming of the tip of the pie..share and spread the wealth ..maybe not I suppose.

  23. Alan Campbell says:

    Mileage Rates have remained virtually the same as they were when i started work nearly 29 years ago and fuel prices have rocketed.

  24. Alan Campbell says:

    For NHS staff on Agenda for Change terms, mileage is paid at 59p per mile for the first 3,500 miles and 24p per mile over 3,500 miles.
    22p per mile 29 years ago was the amount I was paid
    Our staff were getting 28P per mile during covid and this was increased to 31P with cost of living crisis so why is there such a difference from the above agenda for change terms.
    Meal allowances are £15 per day exactly the same as 29 years ago as well.

  25. Oldman-Ensa Rogers says:

    There should be a better understanding by the managers that time is up and this change is needed.

  26. Claire carbray says:

    We received an allowance for our cars many years ago however our employer took it from us as a saving watering down conditions qnd we still have wear and tare on our cars…. we were essential taken to casual leavel but still do same job. Doesn’t equate. And for past 12 years not given a fair cost per mile putting us workers out of pocket…putting a car and fueling it to do our jobs and being out of pocket. Pool cars were available and there was a good fleet to use however over past 6 or 7 years the cars have steadily disappeared! It’s due to our good nature we still use our cars!

  27. Marina A says:

    I work for a care provider and use my car daily to drive vulnerable adults to activities, medical appointments and much more. We get paid, 45p a Mile however, we do not get the cost of wear and tear or the added miles which depreciates the car when selling. I have only just started to check and add up the miles weekly due to one week, completing 131 miles and the money received the following week did not reflect those miles at all. I informed my manger and they looked into this but my main concern is the lack of money received when using your personal vehicle.

  28. Len says:

    I agree with all the comments above ,we used to be class as essential car users , now we are casual , mileage allowance has gone down and I can’t also claim the journey the same way as in the past. I have only 15 min for travel between appointments which is stressful too . Wear and tear on my car is also noticeable and the amount of time I had a tyre puncture between my visits is also unbelievable ,yet again , that is just expected to get quickly fixed and move on without moaning .

  29. Graeme Matthews says:

    My car is 17 years old now and I paid £6k for it in 2013, with fsh and 50,000 miles, from a main dealer.
    I cannot find a similar car that suits my family needs as well, 16 plate, with same mileage for £15k. Infact, ridiculously my car would sell on a garage forecourt for £3k.
    What sort of car financially stacks up on a mileage rate of of 45p/mile? Petrol is 15p/mile at 40mpg. Getting a loan to by a £15k car over 5 years would be minimum £300/month.
    So car prices have gone up 150% in 10 years, based on my experience.
    Sadly all unsustainable.

  30. Matthew Birkinshaw says:

    I was asked by the North East branch of Unison to make an independent calculation on the cost per mile for each type of propulsion.

    I undertook this analysis in June 2022, when car prices were high, due to the semi conductor shortage, and energy costs were at their peak, due to the war on Ukraine.

    I took the top 10 most purchased cars and calculated all their costs, including insurance, car tax, and depreciation. I based my running costs on a social worker living in the North east, where insurance premiums are high. At the time the cost for a litre of Diesel was 185.3p, the cost for a litre of petrol was 175.5p, and electric was calculated at 25.8p/KWh.

    The results were as follows:

    Battery electric 51.6p/mile
    Diesel 57.9p/mile
    Petrol 51.8p/mile
    Hybrid petrol 49.1p/mile
    Plug in hybrid petrol 59.7p/mile

    The fuel and energy costs only for each propulsion were as follows:

    Battery electric 5.9p/mile
    Diesel 14.4p/mile
    Petrol 16.2p/mile
    Hybrid petrol 13.1p/mile
    Plug in hybrid petrol 11.1p/mile

    The best selling car at the time was the Vauxhall Corsa which had three different propulsions. The results for the Corsa is as follows:

    Battery electric 52.1p/mile
    Diesel 47.2p/mile
    Petrol 47.6p/mile
    Hybrid petrol NA
    Plug in hybrid petrol NA

    Despite the soaring energy costs last year, the major cost of running a car was depreciation. Depreciation can only be estimated, however the source of the figures in the above costs are from Diesel and Eco car magazine, who are the leading independent authority on car data and costs. As these costs are based upon the costs for a brand new car, buying a year old car or older, and using if for work, will be cheaper than the costs per mile for a new car.

    Note that the pence per mile does not include servicing or tyres, however during the first year of ownership servicing is generally free and tyres generally last more than a year, so this could not be quantified. Also fuel costs have decreased since Jun 22, and energy costs are slightly lower.

    What I find interesting is that it is cheaper to run a BEV, in terms of energy and VED costs, however they depreciate more heavily and are more costly to insure, so overall there is not much disparity between owning a traditional ICE petrol/diesel vehicle, and a BEV or something in-between like a PHEV, in terms of cost per mile.

    If anyone would like the analysis behind the above figures you can email me at matthewbirkinshaw@gateshead.gov.uk

  31. Deborah Bkench says:

    I work constant night shift covering the whole borough of Gateshead. I do on average 80 miles per night. Last year I went over 9000 miles and only got 14p per mile there after. I’ve just paid over 300 for four new tyres. It used to be beneficial for me to use my car but it certainly isn’t now. Im also expected to pick up and drop off my co worker who is a none driver .My working hours are longer than my co worker because of this. With the extremely high mileage I do my car has considerably went down in value. I’m an essential driver but get less per mile than a casual driver I only get 40p per mile when a casual driver gets 55p.

  32. Jacqueline Robertson says:

    Hi I am a community support worker for the NHS, Can’t use work cars due to back problems .Have to use own car all the time. My mileage is quite high due this. What gets me after I do more than 3000 in a year instead of 65p it goes down to 25p it’s like this for about 3 to 4 months getting 25p. Bought my car a year ago I have done 12000 miles in that year. not counting in MOT and new tyres

  33. Debbie T. says:

    I have been working as an Occupational Therapist in Adult social care for 25 years now and I am considering the option to use public transport to visit people at home and stop using my car. The local authority will fund public transport payments, however, pay far too little if I travel in my own car.

  34. Paula Adams says:

    The cost of fuel for my car and parts are leaving me financially struggling every month.

  35. Bob the Builder says:

    As much I agree that the mileage allowances need to increase for UNISON members, it seems somewhat hypocritical that UNISON have so far not increased this for their own staff members, despite being asked to do so.

  36. Ricky Cullen says:

    Absolutely appauling review of fuel rates as of Dec 1st 2023. Reducing the amount that can be claimed by people with fully electric vehicles, while energy prices remain significantly higher and public charging rates are out of control at almost 5x the cost of domestic charging… and this is before the prices increases which are forecast for next year :/

    They convince us all to switch to these more expensive vehicles and then reduce what we can claim so we can’t even cover the costs incurred.

  37. Moo says:

    It is absolutely disgusting. Bought a car right before qualifying as a social worker. Insurance is £1,000, general wear and tear has come to £1,300 in 10 months, and spent approx £400 on fuel for visits. Guess how much my mileage claim has been…. £430!!!!!

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