A reminder of trivial benefit rules

We wanted to remind readers of the trivial benefits in kind (BiK) rules. The BiK exemption applies to small non-cash benefits like a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers given occasionally to employees, or any other benefit in kind classed as 'trivial' that falls within the exemption. By taking advantage of the exemption employers can simplify the treatment of BiKs whilst at the same time offering a tax efficient way to give small gifts to employees.

The trivial benefit rules provide an opportunity to give small rewards and incentives to employees. The main caveat being that the gifts are not provided as a reward for services performed or as part of the employees’ duties. However, gifts to employees on milestone events such as the birth of a child or a marriage or other gestures of goodwill would usually qualify.

The employer also benefits as the trivial benefits do not have to be included on PAYE settlement agreements or disclosed on P11D forms. There is also a matching exemption from Class 1A National Insurance contributions.

The tax exemption applies to trivial BiKs where the BiK:

  • is not cash or a cash-voucher; and
  • costs £50 or less; and
  • is not provided as part of a salary sacrifice or other contractual arrangement; and
  • is not provided in recognition of services performed by the employee as part of their employment, or in anticipation of such services.

The rules dictate that directors or other officeholders of close companies and their families, will be restricted to an annual cap of £300. The £50 limit remains for each gift. The £300 cap does not apply to employees. If the £50 limit is exceeded for any gift, the value of the benefit will be taxable.

Tax treatment of incentive scheme awards

Some companies use incentive award schemes to encourage their employees in various ways. For example, to sell more of their own goods and services. The award can include cash-based, vouchers or other gifts.

Where an employer meets the tax payable on a non-cash incentive award given to a direct employee by entering into a PAYE settlement agreement (PSA), the award is not chargeable to tax on the employee.

With the exception of non-cash awards covered by a PSA, the incentive awards made to employees are chargeable as employment income. The value of these awards is calculated as follows:

Cash
The value to use is the total amount of cash awarded.

Vouchers
If the award consists of vouchers, then the value to use is the full cost to the provider of making the award.

Other gifts
If the award is something other than vouchers, then the charge is usually the full cost to the provider of making the award. There are certain exceptions for the very low paid.

There are also concessions which HMRC makes to enable you to say thank you to staff for specific areas including encouragement awards, suggestion schemes and to reward long service.

Make the most of tax-free trivial benefits

The trivial benefits in kind (BiK) exemption applies to small non-cash benefits, for example a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers, given occasionally to employees.

Although the benefit is defined as ‘trivial’, employers should remember that this can be an efficient way to provide small rewards and incentives to employees. The main requirement is that the gifts are not provided as a reward for services performed or as part of the employees’ duties. However, gifts to employees on milestone events such as the birth of a child or a marriage or other gestures of goodwill would usually qualify.

The employer also benefits as the trivial benefits do not have to be included on PAYE settlement agreements or disclosed on P11D forms. There is also a matching exemption from Class 1A National Insurance contributions. There is no requirement to let HMRC know once the benefit meets the necessary criteria.

The tax exemption applies to trivial BiKs where the BiK:

  • is not cash or a cash-voucher; and
  • costs £50 or less; and
  • is not provided as part of a salary sacrifice or other contractual arrangement; and
  • is not provided in recognition of services performed by the employee as part of their employment, or in anticipation of such services.

The rules also allow directors or other office-holders of close companies and their families to benefit from an annual cap of £300. The £50 limit remains for each gift but could allow for up to £300 of non-cash benefits to be withdrawn per person per year.  The £300 cap doesn’t apply to other employees. If the £50 limit is exceeded for any gift, the total value of the benefit will be taxable.

Tax treatment of incentive award schemes

Companies use incentive award schemes to encourage their employees in various ways. For example, to sell more of their own goods and services. The award can be in various forms including cash, vouchers or other gifts.

Where an employer meets the tax payable on a non-cash incentive award given to a direct employee by entering into a PAYE settlement agreement (PSA), the award is not chargeable to tax on the employee.

With the exception of non-cash awards covered by a PSA, the incentive awards made to employees are chargeable as employment income. The value of these awards is calculated as follows:

Cash
The value to use is the total amount of cash awarded.

Vouchers
If the award consists of vouchers, then the value to use is the full cost to the provider of making the award.

Other gifts
If the award is something other than vouchers, then the charge is usually the full cost to the provider of making the award. There are certain exceptions for the very low paid.

There are also concessions which HMRC makes to enable you to say thank you to staff for specific areas including encouragement awards, suggestion schemes and awards to reward long service. 

Exempt beneficial employee loans

An employee can obtain a benefit when provided with an employment-related cheap or interest-free loan. The benefit is the difference between the interest the employee pays, if any, and the commercial rate the employee would have to pay on a loan obtained elsewhere. These types of loans are referred to as beneficial loans.

There are scenarios where beneficial loans are exempt and employers might not have to report anything to HMRC or pay tax and National Insurance. The most common exemption relates to small loans with a combined outstanding value to an employee of less than £10,000 throughout the whole tax year.

The list also includes loans provided:

  • in the normal course of a domestic or family relationship as an individual (not as a company you control, even if you are the sole owner and employee)
  • to an employee for a fixed and invariable period, and at a fixed and invariable rate that was equal to or higher than HMRC’s official interest rate when the loan was taken out
  • under identical terms and conditions to the public as well (this mostly applies to commercial lenders)
  • that are ‘qualifying loans’, meaning all of the interest qualifies for tax relief
  • using a director’s loan account if it is not overdrawn at any time during the tax year.

HMRC’s official interest rate is currently 2%.

Are you taking advantage of trivial benefits?

The trivial benefits in kind (BiK) exemption applies to small non-cash benefits like a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers given occasionally to employees. By taking advantage of the exemption employers can simplify the treatment of BiKs whilst at the same time offering a tax efficient way to give small gifts to employees.

Although the benefit is defined as ‘trivial’, employers should remember that this offers a great opportunity to give small rewards and incentives to employees. The main caveat being that the gifts are not provided as a reward for services performed or as part of the employees’ duties. However, gifts to employees on milestone events such as the birth of a child or a marriage or other gestures of goodwill would usually qualify.

The employer also benefits as the trivial benefits do not have to be included on PAYE settlement agreements or disclosed on P11D forms. There is also a matching exemption from Class 1A National Insurance contributions.

The tax exemption applies to trivial BiKs where the BiK:

  • is not cash or a cash-voucher; and
  • costs £50 or less; and
  • is not provided as part of a salary sacrifice or other contractual arrangement; and
  • is not provided in recognition of services performed by the employee as part of their employment, or in anticipation of such services.

The rules also allow directors or other officeholders of close companies and their families to benefit, but overall payments made in a tax year cannot exceed £300. The £50 limit remains for each gift but could allow for up to £300 of non-cash benefits to be withdrawn per person per year.  The £300 cap does not apply to employees. If the £50 limit is exceeded for any gift, the value of the benefit will be taxable.

Check if you can claim working from home expenses

If you are an employee who is working from home, you may be able to claim tax relief for some of the bills you pay that are related to your work. 

Note that if an employee is working at home voluntarily, they cannot claim tax relief. However, these tax reliefs are available to anyone who has been asked to work from home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. HMRC received more than 3 million claims for the tax relief for the 2020-21 tax year and has also confirmed that the tax relief will continue to be available in the current 2021-22 tax year.

HMRC’s Director General for Customer Services, recently commented that:

'Half a million people have already reduced their Income Tax this year by up to £125, by claiming tax relief on their working from home expenses.'

Employers may reimburse employees for the additional household expenses incurred by working at home. The relief covers expenses such as business telephone calls or heating and lighting costs for the room in which you are working. Expenses that are for private and business use (such as broadband) cannot be claimed. Employees may also claim tax relief on equipment purchased to facilitate working at home such as a laptop, chair or mobile phone.

Employers can pay up to £6 per week (or £26 a month for employees paid monthly) to cover an employee’s additional costs if they must work from home. Employees do not need to keep any specific records if they receive this fixed amount. 

If the expenses or allowances are not paid by the employer, then the employee can claim tax relief directly from HMRC. Employees will get tax relief based on their highest tax rate. For example, if they pay the 20% basic rate of tax and claim tax relief on £6 a week, they will get £1.20 per week in tax relief (20% of £6). Higher rate taxpayers would receive £2.40 a week (40% of £6). Employees can claim more than the quoted amount but will need to provide evidence to HMRC. 

Mobile phone exempt costs

When an employee incurs costs for the provision of mobile phones to employees it is important to understand the correct tax treatment of these expenses. This includes costs for phones provided to employees and reimbursement of employee’s own phone costs.

As a rule, the provision of one mobile phone to a director or employee for private use is exempt from reporting requirements, tax and National Insurance. The exemption covers the phone itself, any line rental and the cost of private calls paid for by the employer on that phone. The phone contract must be between the employer and the supplier.

If the telephone expenses are not exempt, then they must be reported to HMRC and employers may have to deduct and pay tax and National Insurance.

Some mobile phone expenses are covered by exemptions. 

For example, if an employee arranges the phone but you pay the supplier then you must:

  • report the cost on form P11D
  • pay Class 1 National Insurance through payroll

HMRC also makes it clear that there remain devices that have telephone functionality that do not qualify as mobile phones. The tax exemption applies only to devices primarily designed for voice communication. For example, the rules do not apply to tablets, PDAs and other similar devices.

Changing the terms of a salary sacrifice arrangement

A salary sacrifice arrangement is effectively an agreement to reduce an employee’s entitlement to cash pay, usually in return for a non-cash benefit. This can include items such as company cars, childcare vouchers and additional employer pension contributions.

The tax and NIC advantages of certain benefits provided as part of a salary sacrifice arrangement were removed from 6 April 2017. The change effectively removed the Income Tax and employer NIC advantages of certain benefits provided as part of salary sacrifice arrangements such as mobile phones and workplace parking. There was a transitional plan in place for certain benefits until 6 April 2021.

If an employee wants to opt in or out of a salary sacrifice arrangement, the employer must alter their contract with each change. The employee’s contract must be clear on what their cash and non-cash entitlements are at any given time.

It may also be necessary to change the terms of a salary sacrifice arrangement where a lifestyle change significantly alters an employee’s financial circumstances.

This may include:

  • changes to circumstances directly arising as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • marriage
  • divorce
  • partner becoming redundant or pregnant

Salary sacrifice arrangements can allow opting in or out in the event of lifestyle changes like these.

Exempt beneficial loans

An employee can obtain a benefit when provided with an employment-related cheap or interest-free loan. The benefit is the difference between the interest the employee pays, if any, and the commercial rate the employee would have to pay on a loan obtained elsewhere. These types of loans are referred to as beneficial loans.

There are a number of scenarios where beneficial loans are exempt and employers might not have to report anything to HMRC or pay tax and National Insurance. The most common exemption relates to small loans with a combined outstanding value to an employee of less than £10,000 throughout the whole tax year. 

The list also includes loans provided:

  • in the normal course of a domestic or family relationship as an individual (not as a company you control, even if you are the sole owner and employee)
  • to an employee for a fixed and invariable period, and at a fixed and invariable rate that was equal to or higher than HMRC’s official interest rate when the loan was taken out
  • under identical terms and conditions to the general public as well (this mostly applies to commercial lenders)
  • that are ‘qualifying loans’, meaning all of the interest qualifies for tax relief 
  • using a director’s loan account as long as it’s not overdrawn at any time during the tax year.