The shortage of skilled staff is encouraging businesses to incentivise their workforce by giving greater control over the make-up of their remuneration package – “flexible benefits”.
The employees’ participation in a flexible benefits scheme is usually funded by agreeing to reduce salary in return for a non-cash benefit.
Savings can be realised where the benefit provided to staff is tax and/or NIC free. Typical examples include employer’s pension contributions; employer-provided childcare arrangements; and ‘bikes for work’, as well as alternative options, such as a reduction of pay in return for increased holiday entitlement, All of these need to be implemented correctly for the sacrifice to be effective.
Generally, salary sacrifice arrangements are effective where the contractual right to cash is reduced, and the employee is not freely able to revert to their original higher salary in place of the benefit being provided. It is important that the employee’s contractual entitlement to future pay must be relinquished before the point at which it is treated as received for both income tax and NIC purposes. The revised contractual arrangement must also genuinely entitle the employee to a reduced cash payment, in exchange for the provision of a benefit by the employer.
Usually, HMRC’s approach will be that in cases where there is a variation to the contract, lasting for a minimum period of a year, it will accept the position. However, if the agreed period is less than twelve months, the risk of HMRC challenging the arrangement is considerably higher. In a worst case the sacrifice is ineffective and tax and NIC is charged on the gross amount.
It is worth taking time to get this right but done correctly both employer and employees can be winners.
Date: 15th April, 2008
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