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‘I’m driving to work during the train strikes, can I charge my neighbours for a lift?’

·6-min read
moral money car trains transport rail strikes - Nick Meng for The Telegraph
moral money car trains transport rail strikes - Nick Meng for The Telegraph

Dear Moral Money,

I’ve decided to drive into work this week while the train strikes are going on. I live outside of London, near Aylesbury, so I usually travel by rail. I’ve written off any chance I’ll be able to board a train, so my commute looks like it will be a nightmare – involving two buses and a coach and taking me at least three hours door-to-door.

I was complaining about this last weekend at a neighbour’s garden party. Two women who live on my road – and who I sometimes commute in with – were tearing their hair out over the strikes, worrying about how they were going to make it into work. Neither of them own a car themselves, so I offered them a lift during the strikes.

The trouble is, it’s not that convenient for me. Although they work somewhat near my offices, driving through central London during the strikes will be horrendous. And with the cost of fuel so high – it’s 165p a litre for unleaded at my local petrol station – it’s probably going to cost me at least £10 in petrol each day, which works out at £40 over the whole week. And then there is the extortionate cost of parking.

Could I ask them to make a contribution? If I was driving some friends out of town, I’d have no problems suggesting we split the cost. But is that too un-neighbourly?

–  Angela B, the Chilterns

Asking your neighbours to make a contribution to your driving costs is certainly within your rights. With the price of fuel continuing to soar, carpooling right now doesn’t come cheap. According to the latest data from the RAC, the average petrol price currently stands at 186.59p per litre, an increase of around 50p since last year, while diesel is at 192.48p.

Time is also money, and during the UK’s biggest rail strike in decades, making a detour to their workplaces could significantly lengthen your journey given the huge surge in traffic. The AA warns that major city routes will be extremely busy.

All this considered, it seems only fair your neighbours should chip in. But we all know relationships with neighbours can be tricky. You might decide it’s not worth having the difficult conversation if it means glaring at each other over the garden hedge for the rest of summer.

Perhaps, instead of charging them a fee, you could offer to drive your neighbours only part way into town. Alternatively, you could ask them to return the favour and give you a lift at some point in the future?

Whatever you decide, going forwards, you should do what you can to cut your fuel costs. For a start, it’s usually cheaper to fill up your tank at the supermarket. You can also try driving more efficiently to cut down on the amount of fuel used.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below and by emailing moralmoney@telegraph.co.uk.

You can also put any question to us (and anonymously) by using the email address above.

Last week’s Moral Money: ‘Should I take my child out of school to go on a cheap holiday?’

Dear Moral Money,

My five-year-old recently started at the local primary school and I’ve suddenly realised that for the next 13 years or so we will only be able to go on holiday during school holidays.

What makes it worse is that we haven’t been away for years. Like everyone, the pandemic put a stop to holidays and prior to 2020 we weren’t in a financial position to take the time off.

More and more of our son’s classmates seem to mysteriously disappear from school for a couple of days or even a week. Officially the child is ill, but it’s a pretty open secret in the playground that they’ve been taken out of school to save on the cost of a holiday.

At first I took the moral high ground but now I’m seriously thinking of joining them. A week’s trip for the three of us to Center Parcs in Suffolk would cost £2,500 in August, against £1,000 in mid-September.

My own parents would never have dreamt about taking me out of school, but everything is so much more expensive these days and this could be the only way we get a decent break.

In any case, a physically active holiday with two attentive parents is enriching in a way a classroom never could be.

I’m not suggesting we do this several times a year, and would never take him out during exam season. Is there really a problem if he misses a week of school? Everyone’s doing it and I don’t see why we should miss out.

- Ben L, Brighton

First thing’s first. It is a legal requirement for your child to attend school from compulsory school age. This is on December 31, March 31 or August 31 following their fifth birthday, whichever comes soonest. They must then start school the following term and stay until they are 16 and then until 18 in full-time education, or an apprenticeship or other kind of training.

Councils and schools can use various legal powers if your child misses school “without good reason”. You may be given a “parenting order” or made to pay a fine of £60 per parent, rising to £120 per parent after 21 days. In extremis, you could be prosecuted and given a fine of up to £2,500, given a community order – or even a jail sentence of up to three months.

Is it really worth the risk?

In reality, few parents are ever fined, let alone prosecuted. Of course, we could never recommend breaking the law, but we are all craving holidays after the past couple of years, and seeing other parents exploit the system to book cheap trips must be deeply frustrating if you’ve always followed the rules.

As you say, there is value for a child to gain from a trip to the Pyramids or Rome or even Center Parcs, especially if the choice is between one holiday, or none at all.

To feel vindicated you really do need to make sure the break enhances your son’s education and experiences: sitting on a beach for a week and filling up at an all-inclusive resort will not garner much sympathy.  

Some readers might also make the point that the age of the child is vitally important. Missing a week of school at 15, with GCSEs looming, is surely a different kettle of fish to when your son is five.

If you don’t decide to go on moral grounds, would you consider alerting the authorities to other parents who do break the rules?

One thing I’m sure we all agree on is that children should be in school as much as possible. As many as 100,000 children are thought to be unaccounted for since schools reopened following the lockdowns. That is the real tragedy.

Poll results: Should our reader take his son out of school to go on holiday?

Yes - family memories are more important than a few days of school - 47pc

Yes - but you should take them somewhere that enhances what they’re studying - 14pc

No - your child’s education is too important to disrupt for a cheaper holiday - 26pc

No - breaking the law for a jolly holiday is out of the question - 13pc

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