UNISON at Harrogate Borough Council is today raising the issue of what it describes as the ‘the cost of working’ for its members and other staff delivering vital public services for residents, businesses and visitors to the District during the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown.
Having consulted with its members it has lodged a Dispute in relation to the Council’s current position of refusing to cover any of the increased costs incurred by staff who are having to work from home and have been doing so for a full year as a result of the pandemic.
On behalf of its members UNISON says it has made a reasonable and legitimate request for HBC to pay a tax free allowance of £6 a week to help staff who have no choice but to work from home. HBC’s current position is that staff should apply to HMRC for tax relief equating to just £1.20 per week (or £2.40 for higher rate tax payers), which the union says does not come close to covering the increased costs of working from home or is accessible to those staff who do not earn enough to pay tax.
Speaking for UNISON, Branch secretary David Houlgate said:
Staff have incurred increased gas, electric and water bills as a result of working from home and are in effect being asked to subsidise the Council in delivering its services. Against this are the savings in these very same utilities that we believe the Council is making by way of staff working from home and Council sites being closed or sparsely occupied.
It should be noted that we do not accept any argument that staff are saving on travel costs. This may benefit some but by no means all.
The Dispute also includes an issue around mileage because of a deferral by the Council on a decision relating to UNISON’s request for the Council to change its policy on mileage to reflect the fact that the workplace has now in effect changed by way of staff being forced to work from home. Ordinarily staff who use their own vehicles on Council business can claim for mileage when doing so but only from the established workplace. UNISON believes that the workplace is no longer the office but is in fact the home.
Mr Houlgate said:
That is where staff are now setting off from to carry out their duties.
He added that this would appear to be another example of staff having to subsidise the delivery of Council services.
Mr Houlgate said:
In lodging the Dispute we are conscious that staff are also being promised a pay freeze for 2021, a real terms pay cut. There does not seem to be any tangible or public recognition of the efforts of staff on delivering and maintaining vital Council services and more besides, whilst having to work in isolation for a full year. We have tried to resolve these issues through dialogue but now, unfortunately, it has become necessary for us to take this course of action.
A council spokeswoman said:
In a time when many employers are going out of business, making redundancies or putting staff on furlough we have managed to ensure no one has been put in this position. This has been achieved by being in a relatively strong financial position before the pandemic, redeploying staff to other council services and being extremely cautious with our finances over the last 12-months.
We have ensured that staff who are working at home as a result of the ongoing global pandemic – which we believe to be less than 50 per cent of all employees – are aware of the HMRC tax relief for additional household costs. This tax relief is backdated for the 2020/21 tax year and equates to £62.40 for the basic tax payer. Any member of staff who believes they have higher costs than £6 a week, can claim via the HMRC.
A vast proportion of office-based staff are also saving on travel costs, whether public transport or their own vehicles.