Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Monday, 4 August 2008 16:20 UK

Vicar's anger over road tax rise

by Jackie Storer
BBC News political reporter

The Reverend Peter Cook
Peter Cook says the government is silent about tax rises on pre-2001 cars

A vicar has hit out at plans to raise car tax for "gas guzzling" vehicles, saying ministers "haven't got a clue" what it is like to be a poor motorist.

The Reverend Peter Cook says he cannot afford to replace his nine-year-old 1600cc Nissan Primera, which faces a tax rise from 185 to 200 in 2010.

The vicar says he uses his car to visit elderly and sick people around Bristol.

"If you are a poorer driver you get clobbered all ways. Rich government ministers haven't got a clue," he said.

Mr Cook spoke out after the influential Environmental Audit Committee of MPs urged the government to be bolder over its plans to increase car tax for the highest polluting vehicles.

I can't afford to replace my car, which is 10 years old next year and the road tax will go up to 200
Peter Cook
Hanham Baptist Church

The changes will increase the number of payment bands for cars made since 2001 from seven to 13, with the maximum tax for vehicles with the most emissions being 455 for 2009/10, while owners of the least polluting will pay zero.

Mr Cook, vicar at the Hanham Baptist Church in Bristol, said the tax hike was also hitting even older cars, like his P-reg Nissan which was registered before 2001.

Short journeys

There is not enough information on levels of emissions from pre-2001 cars, which are instead taxed according to two bands based on engine size - those which are under 1549cc and those over.

Cars under the threshold will keep the 120 annual fee in 2009/10, while those over will rise to 200.

The knock-on effect, says Mr Cook, is he is increasingly having to dip into his own pocket to pay for his pastoral work as a minister.

Government ministers get new cars on a regular basis and don't know what it is like to struggle to replace their cars
Peter Cook
"As a vicar I do quite a lot of visiting people, which saves the government a lot of money.

"I can't afford to replace my car, which is 10 years old next year, and the road tax will go up to 200.

"If you are a poorer driver you get clobbered all ways. I get taxed three times: the tax on the fuel that's going up, the increased road tax and when I use the car for business, I get taxed again.

"I do the usual cups of tea thing that vicars do, but more importantly, I visit people in hospices, in hospitals, people with mental health problems who have no-one to talk to, people who are sick, with marriage problems and so on.

"I am on the edge of Bristol, so I mostly make quite short journeys, but it can take more than an hour each way to get to Southmead Hospital."

Motorbike move

But the married father-of-three said he could not see the road tax rises stopping his work.

"It just comes straight off the income to support my family," he said.

"More and more I am paying to visit people. The government has us over a barrel, really.

"I understand that they want to keep things like allowances down for the reps who do a lot more mileage, but they replace their cars every three years or so for new ones.

"Government ministers get new cars on a regular basis and don't know what it is like to struggle to replace their cars."

Engine size

Mr Cook said he agreed with efforts to help the environment.

"I have bought a second-hand motorbike to cut some of the emissions down, but you can't take people to hospital on the back of a motorbike," he said.

"We try to do our bit and reduce our mileage. I could cycle but it would vastly reduce the number of visits I do."

The Treasury says the new plans would encourage people to use more environmentally friendly cars and save 1.3m tonnes of CO2 by 2020.

"We set out the position very clearly in the Budget," said a spokesman.

"Rates for pre-2001 cars will continue to be based on engine size," he said.

"Taking account of inflation, drivers of these cars will still pay less than in 1997, and some will see a decrease in inflation terms."


SEE ALSO
MPs sceptical over car tax rise
04 Aug 08 |  UK Politics

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