CUMBRIA'S vital volunteer drivers are paying a heavy price for their good deeds as petrol prices reach record highs.

A network of dedicated drivers across the county’s most rural areas is a lifeline to people who struggle to access health and community services.

But the cost-of-living crisis combined with soaring fuel costs is driving some volunteers away from their crucial work.

With prices at the pump reaching more than £2 a litre in some areas, the expense of being a good Samaritan is not always met by Government-set mileage rates.

That means some volunteer drivers have had to put their hands in their pockets to foot the bill.

Fred Nixon has been forced to give up his valuable role helping his community – and he believes others will follow.

The 72-year-old, who has been a volunteer driver around Roadhead for 15 years, said: “It’s not acceptable, we are running at a loss.

“It’s not just petrol, I have to pay to keep my vehicle on the road and I was dipping into my pension money to do so.

“Wherever anybody wants to go, I’ve always done my best to get them there, whether it’s hospital, the doctors or shopping.

“I’ve had some of my clients crying when I told them I can’t do it any more – it’s going to have a big impact.”

Joan Hodgson lives in rural Hethersgill and, due to a lack of public transport, has relied upon Mr Nixon’s services for years.

She said: “Volunteer drivers are a lifeline and I do not think that people like Fred should be expected to subsidise the likes of me, it’s not fair or right.”

The 81-year-old added: “People will be left having to pay for private taxis in order to go about their business as there’s no public transport here.”

Mr Nixon has pleaded with politicians to take up his cause and is urging the Government to boost mileage rates to cover additional costs.

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Cllr Tim Pickstone, who represents Longtown Ward on the new Cumberland Council, wrote to Cumbria County Council asking them to review the situation.

He said: “The cost-of-living crisis is affecting us all, but the fact that volunteer drivers are now being paid expenses that doesn’t cover the cost of petrol clearly isn’t sustainable.”

The Government recently responded to an email from Cumbria MP Tim Farron on the issue, saying mileage rates aim to reflect fuel costs as well as major expenses associated with running a car.

A letter from HM Revenue & Customs said its Approved Mileage Allowance Payments were kept under review, adding that employers and volunteer organisations could agree to reimburse a different amount.

The county council, which is appealing for more volunteer drivers, currently has a pool of nearly 200 people and pays the maximum mileage rate possible of 45p a mile - also the amount insurers have agreed to cover. 

A national petition to increase the rate has more than 34,000 signatures and has passed the threshold for a Government response.

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