Government Taxes Mountain Rescue £200,000 Per Year

© Mark Reeves
VAT Exemption Petition Knocked Back By No. 10

The Mountain Rescue (MR) for England and Wales is donation funded and staffed by volunteers. They receive no remuneration for their efforts, yet they regularly assist the police, ambulance crews and fire service in technical rescues, not all of which are mountain related.

In effect they save the government thousands of pounds by offering a free workforce to supplement the main emergency services.

They are rewarded for these efforts with a large tax bill.

"We estimate that MR teams in England & Wales spend approximately £200,000 per year on VAT, fuel tax and Vehicle Excise Duty, and this all comes from donations made by the public."

commented Andy Simpson, the Press Officer for the Mountain Rescue. He spoke at length to regarding the taxes paid by the mountain rescue teams.

We are constantly met with a brick wall when it comes to government making concessions to us on taxes

Andy Simpson - MR

A recent petition sent to No. 10 requested VAT exemptions for Mountain Rescue teams.

The government rejected the petition, stating:

"Our VAT agreements with our European partners, signed by successive governments, mean that it is not now possible to extend the scope of the zero rates available to charities beyond those permitted by EU VAT legislation."

However the Mountain Rescue believed theirs wasn't an out of the ordinary request:

"We believe many other deserving organisations such as Red Nose Day benefit from other tax concessions, given on an ad-hoc basis and without reference to the EU." said Andy Simpson.

The petition wasn't started officially by the mountain rescue, but by an unknown MR team member. It is the latest in several stages of protest against the huge amount of money taken from the MR by the British government.

A stretcher being winched in to a SeaKing helicopter  © Mark Reeves
A stretcher being winched in to a SeaKing helicopter
"The initial push to ask the government for exemption from taxes was started officially by the Fund-raising sub-committee of Mountain Rescue (England & Wales) back in July 2007 when several of us met with the Treasury Secretary, Angela Eagle, to ask what the government could do to support MR."

explained Andy Simpson as he recounted the difficulties faced by the rescue organisation. The MR have subsequently taken their argument direct to the EU Commission after they were told, rather unconvincingly, that the UK government's hands were tied.

Raising money for a new Landrover isn't so bad, but getting £70 to fill the tank time and again is much harder

Andy Simpson - MR

"We've made approaches to the EU Commission and been met with a very positive response. There is currently a review of tax regulations going on in the European Parliament and we are expecting the results of that some time next year. In the meantime we have asked for a 'donation' from the UK government equivalent to the amount of taxes paid in the last year. So far this request has been refused." said Andy Simpson.

The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) are not officially involved but the MR believe them to be generally supportive of the idea of tax emption for mountain rescue. UKClimbing have so far been unable to get an official response from the BMC on this matter.

"Any support we can get from individuals or organisations can only be a good thing" commented Andy Simpson.

A unified front from large organisations such as The BMC, The Ramblers Association and the MR England and Wales, with realistic goals and a well set-out request, plus a coordinated letter writing campaign from members of all those organisations, as well as readers, could tip the balance in favour of the MR.

"With the public finances in the toilet as they are now, it's worth thinking about not only how much the MR teams would save with no VAT, but how much the government would lose. I imagine it's a very small amount relatively speaking, but if any type of organisation is going to ask for relief in paying their taxes they should be able to explain how it helps them so much, whilst not really taking away from something else", commented UKC regular contributor and political analyst Toby Archer, and he's got a point.

The MR teams already have some cross party support in Parliament led by Timothy Farron MP of the Liberal Democrats, who recently tabled an early day motion demanding the government give the teams VAT exemption, but this alone is not enough. In order to fight their case effectively in the current economic climate, the MR community needs to prove not only that they deserve this tax relief, but that it is also going to benefit both hill-goers and the government itself.

Delicate discussion with politicians is not what climbers are known for, but in the modern era of budgets, grants, red tape and litigation, it might become a more useful skill than the traditional fist-jam, especially if the climbing community wants to support this worthy campaign.


Thanks go to Mark Reeves for the photographs. You can read more about Mark on his blog: Life in the vertical.

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3 Jul, 2009
I wander what the government would do if all the mountain rescue services for England and Wales would seize to be, all volunteers to back down ? I think there would be such a public outcry that the government would then fund the MR teams as there would be a soaring casualty/mortality rate on the hills ! This would be a drastic action to take but might make the government sit up and apreciate the work that the MR teams do. It might sound immorally wrong but, will the MR teams still be rattling their coin boxes for funding for the next shout !
3 Jul, 2009
Just had a response from Dave Turnbull, Chief Executive of the British Mountaineering Council:"The Mountain Rescue Teams do a great job nationwide and the BMC would of course support the MRC in their efforts to gain VAT exemption." The Ramblers Association next? Jack
3 Jul, 2009
The government are very good at giving with one hand (gift aid on charitable donations) and clawing back with the other. How long are we going to let them get away with it for?
3 Jul, 2009
"Our VAT agreements with our European partners, signed by successive governments, mean that it is not now possible to extend the scope of the zero rates available to charities beyond those permitted by EU VAT legislation." This from our government. Its hard not to be anti European when you hear statements like this, why on Earth should our country be bound by pointless European regulations which are unsuitable for it? Yet again the beurocrats utterly fail to understand the concept of voluntary organisations.
4 Jul, 2009
Good question. I'm not certain if a list of "other interests" appears against MPs entries but I suggest that all climbers and walkers try and make an effort to find out if their local MPs partake? Concentrated lobbying might help bring about a U turn
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