The use of ‘red diesel’ in golf course maintenance vehicles

As a result of several recent requests to the Helpdesk about the use of ‘red diesel’, to cross public roads for golf course maintenance the following information attempts to clarify the situation.

HMRC allow untaxed vehicles which are not used on a public road (one which is maintained at the public expense) to use ‘red diesel’ as a far cheaper alternative to its ‘white diesel’ counterpart. In terms of its chemical make-up there is no difference at all between the two diesels apart from the red dye which has been added to differentiate it and make it easier for HMRC to detect.

This means that those golf clubs who use their diesel powered machinery entirely ‘off road’ can use red diesel without fear of prosecution.

The difficulties arise where machinery is driven for a short distance along or across a public road to access another part of the course. If the machine is a self-propelled mower, then there is no problem and ‘red diesel’ can be used. If the mower is attached to another vehicle for propulsion, then ‘white diesel’ must be used no matter how short the journey; unless that vehicle is an exempt vehicle.

HMRC has traditionally allowed certain vehicles to be exempt, and thus permitted to use ‘red diesel’, if they are employed in the following:

  • purposes relating to agriculture, horticulture or forestry
  • cutting verges bordering public roads
  • cutting hedges or trees bordering public roads or bordering verges which border public roads
  • from 01 November 2013, gritting of roads, including travel to and from where gritting takes place, and for the collection of equipment and material for gritting

There are many who will argue that maintaining a golf course falls into horticulture, however, HMRC has stated that in their view, “the preparation and maintenance of grassed areas intended for sport and recreational use is not horticulture”.

Therefore, golf clubs who use ‘red diesel’ to move across or along a public road must use ‘white diesel’ in those vehicles that are not self-propelled mowers. Unfortunately, the idea of having two tanks, one with each fuel, that can be switched as required has also been deemed illegal by HMRC.

The threat of punishment is real and at least one local council has been fined over £20k for using red diesel in its tractors whilst using public roads for its grounds’ maintenance operations.

The full transcript of HMRC’s publication on the subject can be read here. 


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