Retained firefighters who risk their lives to keep the community safe should enjoy the same tax benefits as army volunteers, according to a local MP.
Steve Barclay, MP for North East Cambridgeshire, is set to lobby ministers in a bid to change the tax rules for on-call firefighters.
The move comes after he met with members of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue as part of an urgent appeal to recruit more retained (volunteer) firefighters, to work alongside full-time crews.
Group Commander Gary Mitchley explained that many people feel it is not worth the effort of signing up to the service if they lose nearly half their extra income in tax.
He said 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.
Volunteers are paid an hourly fee of £13 to attend incidents but again are taxed on it.
As reported in last week’s Fenland Citizen, Manea Fire Station is struggling to survive due to a lack of on-call crew members – and could face closure unless more step forward.
Commander Mitchley said people signing up for the Territorial Army, which runs on a similar volunteer basis, are paid a higher retention fee than firefighters – and it is tax free.
He added: “Another issue is that businesses who allow staff to dash out to attend an incident, literally at the drop of a hat, 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.”
There are currently 20,000 on-call firefighters nationally, meaning that full tax relief on the retention fee would cost the treasury £16 million.
Mr Barclay has now agreed to lobby for tax breaks for businesses and on-call fire fighters and is planning to write to Chancellor George Osborne’s Personal Parliamentary Secretary to raise the issue.
He said: “It strikes me that this is something that seriously needs to be looked at.
“There should be financial incentives to encourage people to do the right thing like sign-up to be an on-call firefighter and businesses should be helped, too.
“There would be a cost of around £16 million 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.”