The House of Commons has passed a motion calling on the government to review whether air ambulance charities should be given grants equal to the cost of the VAT they pay on fuel.
Guy Opperman, the Conservative MP for Hexham, said the RNLI did not have to pay VAT on fuel for lifeboats because it had been granted an exemption when European VAT rules were introduced in 1977, but air ambulance services did not have the same exemption because they did not exist at the time.
Opperman was speaking in a debate on VAT refunds for air ambulances, triggered by an online petition that received more than 150,000 signatures in only 39 days."I will ask the house to accept one basic principle: that there is no real difference between a lifeboat and a helicopter," he said.
Mark Hoban, financial secretary to the Treasury, said that a change in the VAT law to protect air ambulances would not be possible, but a refund system might be an option.
Air ambulances are not the only emergency organisations to seek the same status as the RNLI. Mountain Rescue and Cave Rescue services have also called for the same exemption for their vehicles as is enjoyed by RNLI lifeboats.The air ambulance motion, which called on the government to conduct an urgent review, was passed by the house. It said it "calls on the government, in the next 12 months, to consider providing for grants to the air ambulance service commensurate to the sums incurred by the air ambulance service for the VAT on the fuel they purchase, and to publish the outcome of that review within this timescale".