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THE FREIGHT Transport Association has won a battle, but not yet the war, in its long campaign for downplating to be possible when taxing heavy goods vehicles.
The Finance Bill includes provision for the Government to permit operators to plate a vehicle at its maximum operating gross weight, rather than its design weight. This means that vehicles carrying, for example, paper products or potato crisps, could be plated below 32.5 tonnes if they are never going to be operated at that weight.
Department of Transport officials have always been concerned that such a concession could be abused, as it would be difficult to detect vehicles which had been downplated, and a spokesman said this week that this may still be an obstacle to the final go-ahead.
The Bill also includes details of the rates of vehicle excise duty which will apply from October 1, when rates of duty are changed to a gross, rather than unladen weight basis.
That fulfils Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Geoffrey Howe's Budget pledge not to increase the overall tax take from commercial vehicle operators; and for lorries over 12 tonnes gross, it reflects the lower damage factors of multi-axled vehicles.
For instance, it will cost £730 to tax a two-axled 16.5-tonner, whereas its three-axled equivalent will cost only £360 a year. The £730 rate will also apply to a three-axled 22-tonner and a four-axled 25-tonner, whereas a three-axled 25-tonner will cost £1,030.
The rates, which stop at present at 32.5 tonnes gross, mean that a top-weight tractive unit working with a two-axled trailer will cost £1,820 a year to tax, whereas one used only with triaxle trailers will cost £1,350. The Government reckons that an extra trailer axle would cost about £2,000 plus vat, so the difference could be recouped after about six years.
The current rate of ved on a 32.5 tonner weighing 12 tonnes unladen on the present scales, is £2,050 per year.
Axle weight is not accounted for in vehicles of under 12 tonnes gvw, with a £170 rate ap plying to 7.5 tonners, and a £360 rate for 7.5 to 12-tonners. As with other categories, concessions still apply to farmers' and showmen's vehicles.
In figures given in the House of Commons last week, Transport Secretary David Howell underlined the thinking behind the new scales by pointing out that 16.5 tonne rigid two-axle lorries will cover 90 per cent of their attributed costs in ved and dery duty, before account is taken of the October 1 changes.
Three-axle rigid 13 tonners will cover their track costs, more than three times while four-axle 32.5 tonne artics will meet 80 per cent of their costs.