Category: Company Mobiles

Make sure to share this article with anyone you know who runs a family business – so they can take advantage of the many ways to lower their tax bill!

Optimising tax-free benefits in family companies

Making use of statutory exemptions for certain benefits-in-kind offers an opportunity to extract funds from a family company without triggering a tax charge.

The essential point to note is that to make the tax saving, the benefit itself, rather than the funds with which to buy the benefit, must be provided.

Mobiles

No tax charge arises where an employer provides an employee with a mobile phone, irrespective of the level of private use. The exemption applies to one phone per employee.

A taxable benefit will however, arise if the employer meets the employee’s private bill for a mobile phone or if top-up vouchers are provided which can be used on any phone

Example

John and Jan Smith are directors of their family-owned company. Their two children also work for the company. The company takes out a contract for four mobile phones and provides each member of the family with a phone. The bills are paid directly to the phone provider by the company. The bills are deductible in computing profits. Each family member receives the use of a phone tax-free, which means they do not need to fund one from their post-tax income.

Pension contributions

Pensions remain a particularly tax-efficient form of savings since nearly everyone is entitled to receive relief on contributions up to an annual maximum regardless of whether they pay tax or not. The maximum amount on which a non-taxpayer can currently receive basic rate tax relief is £3,600. So an individual can pay in £2,880 a year, but £3,600 will be the amount actually invested by the pension provider. Higher amounts may be invested, but tax relief will not be given on the excess. Any tax relief received from HMRC on excess contributions may have to be repaid.

Pension contributions paid by a company in respect of its directors or employees are allowable unless there is an identifiable non-trade purpose. Contributions relating to a controlling director (one who owns more than 20% of the company’s share capital), or an employee who is a relative or close friend of the controlling director, may be queried by HMRC. In establishing whether a payment is for the purposes of the trade, HMRC will examine the company’s intentions in making the payment.

Pension contributions will be viewed in the light of the overall remuneration package and if the level of the package is excessive for the value of the work undertaken, the contributions may be disallowed. However, HMRC will generally accept that contributions are paid ‘wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the trade’ where the remuneration package paid is comparable with that paid to unconnected employees performing duties of similar value.

Other tax-free benefits

Subject to certain conditions being satisfied, other tax-free benefits that a family company may consider include:

  • bicycles or bicycle safety equipment for travel to work
  • gifts not costing more than £250 per year from any one donor
  • Christmas and other parties, dinners, etc, provided the total cost to the employer for each person attending is not more than £150 a year
  • one health screening and one medical check-up per employee, per year
  • the first £500 worth of pensions advice provided to an employee (including former and prospective employees) in a tax year
  • medical treatments recommended by employer-arranged occupational health services. The exemption is subject to an annual cap of £500 per employee

Employing family members, and providing them tax-free benefits, often enables a family-owned company to take advantage of the lower tax rates, personal allowances and exemptions that may be available to a spouse, civil partner, or children. In turn, this arrangement can help reduce the household’s overall tax bill.

Partner Note: ITEPA 2003, s 244, s 308C, s 319; BIM46035, BIM47105

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Who the phone contract is billed to makes a big difference in tax.

Tax-free mobile phone

Mobile phones are ubiquitous – they are also subject to a tax exemption which enables employees to enjoy a mobile phone provided by their employer without suffering a benefit in kind tax charge. However, as with all exemptions there are conditions to be met for the exemption to apply.

Nature of the exemption

The exemption applies where an employer provides an employee with a mobile phone for his or her use. However, ownership of the phone must not be transferred to the employee. The exemption covers the use of the phone and the cost of all calls, including private calls. It also applies to the provision of a SIM card for use in the employee’s own phone.

The exemption is limited to one phone or SIM card per employee. Phones or SIM cards provided to members of the employee’s family or household by virtue of the employee’s employment are treated as if they were provided to the employee.

If the employee is provided with more than one mobile phone or SIM card, second and subsequent phones or SIM cards are taxed as a benefit in kind (as an asset made available for the employee’s use).

If the exemption does not apply, the employer can meet the cost of business calls without triggering a tax charge.

Contract between employer and supplier

While the end result may seem to be the same if the employer contracts with the phone supplier or if the employee takes out the contract and the employer either pays the bill or reimburses the employee, from a tax perspective the outcome is very different.

The mobile phone exemption only applies if the contract is between the employer and the phone supplier. If the contract is between the employee and the phone supplier and the employer meets the cost, the employer is meeting a personal bill of the employee rather than providing the employee with a mobile phone. This is an important distinction and can mean the difference between the exemption being available and the employee suffering a tax hit.

Smartphones count

The exemption applies to smartphones. To count as a phone, the device must be capable of making and receiving voice calls. Tablets, such as iPads, do not qualify (even if calls can be made via What’s App or similar services). The fact that a device has telephone functionality does not in itself qualify it as a mobile phone. As a general rules, devices that use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) systems will not qualify.

Beware the OpRA rules

The exemption is lost if the mobile phone is made available to the employee under a salary sacrifice or other optional remuneration arrangement (OpRA). Where this is the case, the alternative valuation rules apply and the benefit is valued by reference to the salary foregone instead.

 Partner note: ITEPA 2003, s. 319.

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