Category: Finance & Accounting

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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If you need help on how to time dividends, read our short article that explains the basics

Timing dividends right could help save tax

Timing the date of a dividend payment from a company can determine both the amount and the due date of the tax payable. This may be a particularly useful strategy in a close- or family-owned company.

The dividend allowance, which was originally introduced from 6 April 2016, was cut from £5,000 a year to £2,000 from 6 April 2018. Fortunately, the tax rates on dividend income, above the allowance, remain at 7.5% for basic rate taxpayers, 32.5% for higher rate taxpayers and 38.1% for additional rate taxpayers.

The amount of tax payable on dividend income is determined by the amount of overall income an individual receives during a tax year. This includes earnings, savings, dividend and non-dividend income. The amount of dividend tax paid depends primarily on which tax band the first £2,000 falls in.

Accelerating payment

The timing of the dividend payment may have a marked impact on the directors’ and shareholders’ personal tax situation. A dividend is not paid until the shareholder receives the funds direct or the dividend amount is put unreservedly at his or her disposal, for example by a credit to a loan account on which the shareholder has the power to draw. If the personal tax allowance and basic rate band for a tax year have not been fully utilised towards the end of the tax year, payment of a dividend may mean that the unused portion can be mopped up.

Example

Graham is the sole director and shareholder of a limited company.

He is considering whether to pay a dividend before the end of the 2019/20 tax year. In that tax year he has other income of £25,000. He has retained profits in the company of £100,000.

For 2019/20 the personal tax allowance is £12,500 and the basic rate tax band is £37,500. The dividend allowance is £2,000.

If Graham pays a dividend of £27,000 before the end of the 2019/20 tax year, he will fully utilise his basic rate band, and will be liable to tax at 7.5% on the £25,000 of the dividend income (the first £2,000 of the dividend being covered by the dividend allowance).

Delaying payment

Where the shareholder already has income exceeding the basic rate band in one tax year, delaying the dividend until the start of the next tax year could save tax.

Example

Following on from the above example, say Graham has already paid himself a salary of £50,000 in the 2019/20 tax year, thus fully using up his basic rate band. If he pays the £27,000 dividend before the end of the tax year, he will pay tax on it of £8,125 (£27,000 – £2,000 allowance x 32.5%). This tax will be due for payment on 31 January 2021.

If he waits until the start of the next tax year (2020/21) to pay the dividend, and also receives a salary of £25,000 during that year, the tax due on the dividend will be £1,875 (£25,000 x 7.5%) – a potential saving of £6,250. Graham will also benefit from a delay in the due date for payment of the tax until 31 January 2022.

Fluctuating income

Dividend payments can often be timed to smooth a director/shareholder’s earnings year-on-year. Broadly, where profits fluctuate, a company could consider declaring and paying dividends equally each year, or by declaring a smaller dividend in the first year (when profits are higher) and treating the remainder of the payment as a shareholder loan. At the start of the next tax year, a further (smaller) dividend can be declared, which will repay the loan. Care must be taken with this type of arrangement, not least because the loan must be repaid within nine months of the company’s year-end to avoid a tax charge arising on the company.

The family business potentially offers considerable scope for structuring tax-efficient payments to family members using a mixture of both salary and dividends. A pre-dividend review may be particularly beneficial towards the end of the company’s year-end.

Partner Note: ITA 2017, s 8 and s 13A; F(No 2)A 2017, s 8;  CTA 2010, s 455

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A quick summary of the new tax bands for CO2 car emissions which will be introduced from April next year:

Are low emissions cars tax efficient?

Significant changes are being made from 2020-21 to the company car tax benefits-in-kind bands affecting ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs).

The taxable benefit arising on a car is calculated using the car’s full manufacturer’s published UK list price, including the full value of any accessories. This figure is then multiplied by the ‘appropriate percentage’, which can be found by reference to the car’s CO2 emissions level. This will give the taxable value of the car benefit. The employee pays income tax on the final figure at their appropriate tax rate: 20% for basic rate taxpayers, 40% for higher rate taxpayers and 45% for additional rate taxpayers. This formula means that in general terms, the lower the C02 emissions of the car, the lower the resulting tax charge will be.

For 2019-20, the appropriate percentage for cars (whether fully electric or not) is 16% for those emitting 50g/km CO2 or below, and 19% for those emitting CO2 of between 51 and 75g/km. This means that the taxable benefit arising on a zero-emissions car costing, say £30,000 is £4,800, with tax payable of £960 for a basic rate taxpayer – for a higher rate taxpayer this equates to tax payable of £1,920

By way of comparison, a 2001cc petrol-engine car with a list price of £30,000, will attract an appropriate percentage of 37% in 2019-20. This equates to a taxable benefit charge of £11,100, and a liability of £2,220 a year for a basic rate taxpayer.

New bands

In April 2020, new ULEV rates will be introduced, and the most tax efficient cars will be those with CO2 emissions below 50g/km. There will also be additional financial incentives for electric only cars

From 2020-21, five new bandings are being introduced for full and hybrid electric cars. Fully electric (zero emissions) cars will attract an appropriate percentage of just 2%. This means that the tax benefit arising on an electric car costing say, £30,000 will be just £600. The resulting tax payable by a basic rate taxpayer will be £120 a year and £240 for a higher rate taxpayer.

For cars emitting CO2 of between 1 and 50g/km, the appropriate percentage will depend on the car’s electric range figure:

Mileage Percentage
130 miles or more  2%
70 – 129 miles 5%
40-69 miles 8%
30-39 miles 12%
Less than 30 miles 14%

ULEVs with CO2 emissions of between 50g-74g/km CO2 will be on a graduated scale from 15% to 19% (as is currently the case, diesel-only vehicles will continue to attract a further 4% surcharge) as follows:

CO2 emissions Percentage
51 to 54g/km 15%
55 to 59g/km 16%
60 to 64g/km 17%
65 to 69g/km 18%
70 to 74g/km 19%
75 or more 20%
Plus 1% per 5g/km
Up to a maximum 37%

Whilst the journey towards ‘greener’ driving has been, and continues to be, a rocky one, in 2014/15 a sub-130g/km petrol car was considered green enough to merit an 18% appropriate percentage. However, by 2020/21, the appropriate percentage on such a car will have risen to 30%. A sub-100g/km band car that was only subject to a 12% charge in 2014/15 will also have risen to 24% by 2020/21. On the other hand, clean air all-electric cars will finally plummet to 2% under the new company car tax incentives from April 2020.

The incentives in the new tax bands are clearly designed to encourage ULEVs as a company car driver’s car of choice, and with around 1 million company car drivers in the UK, this benefit is likely to remain one of the most popular and potent perks of a job.

Partner Note: ITEPA 2003, ss 139-142; Finance Act (2) Part 1 s2

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Do you spend more than 6 months of the year outside the UK? Make sure you’re compliant

Non-residents landlord scheme

A non-resident landlord is a landlord who lets out property in the UK but spends more than six months in the tax year outside the UK. A special tax scheme – the non-residents landlord scheme – applies to these landlords. Under the scheme, tax must be deducted by a letting agent or tenant from the rent paid to the non-resident landlord and paid over to HMRC.

Tenants

A tenant falls within the NRL scheme where the landlord is a non-resident landlord and the rent paid to the landlord is more than £100 a week. Where the rent is less than £100 a week (£5,200 a year), the tenant is not required to deduct tax from the rent (unless told to do so by HMRC). The tenant is also relieved of the obligation to deduct tax if HMRC have notified the tenant in writing that the landlord can receive the rent without tax being deducted; however the tenant must still register with HMRC and complete an annual return.

Where the tenant pays rent to a letting agent, it is the letting agent rather than the tenant who must operate the scheme.

Letting agents

Letting agents must also operate the NRL scheme where they collect rent on behalf of a non-resident landlord, regardless of how much rent they collect (unless HMRC have informed the letting agent in writing that the landlord can receive the rent without tax being deducted).

A letting agent is someone who helps the landlord run their business, receives rent on their behalf or controls where it goes and who usually lives in the UK.

Complying with the scheme

To comply with the scheme, tenants and letting agents must

  • register with the HMRC Charity, Savings and International department within 30 days of the date on which they are first required to operate the scheme– letting agents should use form NRL4i and tenants should write to HMRC
  • work out the tax to be deducted each quarter
  • send quarterly payments of tax deducted to HMRC Accounts Office, Shipley
  • send a report to HMRC and the landlord by 5 July after the end of the tax year on form NRLY
  • provide the non-resident landlord with a certificate of tax deducted each year (on form NRL6)
  • keep records for four years to show that they have complied with the scheme

Calculating the tax

Tax should be calculated on a quarterly basis on:

  • any rental income paid to the landlord in the quarter
  • any payments that they make in the quarter to third parties which are not ‘deductible payments’

Deductible payments are those that the tenant or letting agent can be ‘reasonably satisfied’ will be deductible in computing the profits of the landlord’s property rental business. Reassuringly, in their guidance, HMRC state that they ‘do not expect letting agents and tenants to be tax experts’.

The quarters run to 30 June, 30 September, 31 December and 31 March. The tax deducted must be paid over to HMRC within 30 days of the end of the quarter.

The non-resident landlord

The non-resident landlord can set the tax deducted under the scheme against that payable on the profits of his or her property rental business. Partner note: The Taxation of Income from Land (Non-residents) Regulations 1995 (SI 1995/2002).

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A quick guide to what should be included when calculating the profit or loss for a property rental business.

Property income receipts – what should be included?

When calculating the profit or loss for a property rental business, it is important that nothing is overlooked. The receipts which need to be taken into account may include more than simply the rent received from letting out the property.

Rent and other receipts

Income from a property rental business includes all gross rents received before any deductions, for example, for property management fees or for letting agents’ fees. Other receipts, such as ground rents, should be taken into account.

Deposits

The treatment of deposits can be complex. A deposit may be taken to cover the cost of any damage incurred by the tenant. Where a property is let on an assured shorthold tenancy, the tenants’ deposit must be placed in a tenancy deposit scheme.

Deposits not returned at the end of the tenancy or amounts claimed against bonds should normally be included as income. However, any balance of a deposit that is not used to cover services or repairs and is returned to the tenant should be excluded from income.

Jointly-owned property

Where a property is owned by two or more people, it is important that the profit or loss is allocated between the joint owners correctly. Where the joint owners are married or in a civil partnership, profits and losses will be allocated equally, even if the property is owned in unequal shares, unless a form 17 election has been made for profits and losses to be allocated in accordance with actual ownerships shares where these are unequal.

Where the joint owners are not spouses or civil partners, profits and losses are normally divided in accordance with actual ownership shares, unless a different split has been agreed.

Overseas rental properties

Where a person has both UK and overseas rental properties, it is important that they are dealt with separately. The person will have two property rental business – one for UK properties and one for overseas properties. Losses arising on an overseas let cannot be offset against profits of a UK let and vice versa. Proper records should be kept so that the income and expenses can be allocated to the correct property rental business.

Furnished holiday lettings

Different tax rules apply to the commercial letting of furnished holiday lettings and where a let qualifies as a furnished holiday let it must be kept separate from UK lets that are not furnished holiday lettings. Likewise, furnished lets in the EEA must be dealt with separately from UK furnished holiday lets.

Getting it right

Good record keeping is essential to ensure that not only that all sources of income are taken into account, but also that any income received is allocated to the correct property rental business.

Partner note: HMRC’s property rental toolkit (see www.gov.uk/government/publications/hmrc-property-rental-toolkit).

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If you use the property rental toolkit, do you think it’s useful?

Using the property rental toolkit to avoid common errors in returns

HMRC’s property rental toolkit highlights errors commonly found in tax returns in relation to property income. The toolkit can be used to help avoid those errors, some of which are discussed briefly below.

Computation

For unincorporated property businesses, the default basis is the cash basis where the qualifying conditions are met and the landlord does not elect to use the accruals basis. Where the business has moved into or out of the cash basis, transitional adjustments may be needed.

In some circumstances, a trade of providing services may be carried on in addition to the let of the property; and in some cases, the letting may amount to a trade.

It is important the correct computational rules are used.

Record keeping

Poorly-kept records may mean that things are overlooked – income may not be taken into account and allowable expenses not claimed. Property disposals may also be missed.

Property income receipts

All income which arises from an interest in land should be included as receipts of the property rental business. Receipts can include payments in kind (maybe work done on the property in lieu of rent). It should be noted that casual or one-off letting income is still treated as income from a property rental business.

Profits and losses from overseas lets, from furnished lettings and from properties let rent-free or below market rent should be dealt with separately. For other UK lets owned by the same person or persons, income and expenses are combined to work out the overall profit or loss for the property rental business.

Deductions and expenses

Expenses incurred wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the property rental business can be deducted in the computation of profits. Problems may arise where an expense has both a business element and a private element (for example, a car or phone used both privately and for the business). A deduction can be claimed only for the business part where this can be identified and meets the wholly and exclusively test.

The way in which relief for finance costs is being given is shifting from relief by deduction to relief as a basic rate tax reduction. Ensure that the split is correct for the tax year in question and relief given in the right way.

Allowances and reliefs

There are various reliefs that may be available to those receiving rental income.

Rent-a-room relief is available where a room is let furnished in the taxpayer’s own home, enabling receipts of £7,500 a year to be enjoyed free of tax.

The property income allowance of £1,000 means that rental income below this level does not need to be returned to HMRC. Where income exceeds this level, the allowance can be deducted instead of actual expenses where this is beneficial.

Capital allowances can be claimed in certain circumstances. They are available on certain items that belong to the landlord and which are used in the business, for example, tools, ladders, vehicles, etc. However, they are not available for domestic items in a residential property for which a replacement relief is available instead. Capital allowances are similarly not available for plant and machinery in a residential property unless it is a furnished holiday let.

Losses

Property rental losses must be treated correctly. They can only be carried forward and set against future property profits of the same property rental business.

Checklist

The checklist within the toolkit can be used to ensure that everything has been taken into account and that nothing has been overlooked.

Partner note: HMRC’s property rental toolkit (see www.gov.uk/government/publications/hmrc-property-rental-toolkit).

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You might have escaped student loans, but your employees probably haven’t.

Student loan deductions

Employers fulfil many collection roles for HMRC, one of which is the collection of student loan repayments.

There are now three types of student loans for which employers may be responsible for deducting loan repayments from an employee’s pay. These are:

  • Plan 1 Student Loans;
  • Plan 2 Student Loans; and
  • Post-graduate Loans (PGLs).

Repayment thresholds

Employees must make repayments in respect of a student loan when their income exceeds the threshold for their particular loan type. Each loan has its own repayment threshold. The thresholds are as follows:

  Annual Monthly Weekly
Plan 1 Student Loan £18,935 £1,577.91 £364.13
Plan 2 Student Loan £25,725 £2,143.75 £494.71
Post-graduate Loan £21,000 £1,750.00 £403.84

Repayments are made at the rate of 9% on income in excess of the threshold for Plan 1 and Plan 2 Student loans, and at a rate of 6% on income in excess of the threshold for PGLs.

Where an employee has both a student loan and a PGL, deductions will be made at the combined rate of 15% where income exceeds the higher loan threshold.

Starting deductions

An employer will need to start making deductions in respect of a student or PGL if any of the following apply:

  • a new employee is taken on and has a ‘Y’ in the student loan box on their P45;
  • a new employee tells the employer they are repaying a student loan;
  • a new employee completes a starter checklist confirming that they have a student loan;
  • the employer receives a SL1 start notice from HMRC;
  • the employer receives a PGL1 start notice from HMRC; or
  • the employer receives a Generic Notification Service Student Loan reminder.

The employer should check they are aware of the type of loan that the employee has, confirming the loan type with the employee where necessary.

Stopping deductions

The employer should only stop making student loan deductions if they receive a SL2 stop notice or a PGL2 stop notice from HMRC; deductions should not be suspended at the request of the employee.

Where a stop notice is received, the employer should stop the deductions from the first payday from which it is practical to do so.

Paying deductions over to HMRC

The employer should pay amounts deducted from employees’ pay in respect of student loan deductions over to HMRC, together with payment of tax and National Insurance, taking care to ensure that the payment reach HMRC by 22nd month where payment is made electronically or by 19th month where payment is made by cheque.

Leavers

If an employee in respect of whom student loan or PGL repayments are being deducted leaves, the employer should enter a ‘Y’ in box 5 of the P45. This will tell the new employer to make deductions for student loan repayments. A ‘Y’ should be entered in this box even if the employee’s income is below the repayment threshold so no deductions have yet been made. An entry should not be made on the P45 if a stop notice has been received.

Partner Note: The Education (Student Loans) (Repayment) Regulations 2009 (SI 2009/470).

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Are you late with your self-assessment return? Here’s what you need to know.

Penalties for late self-assessment returns

The normal due date for a self-assessment return where filed online is 31 January after the end of the tax year to which it relates. This means that self-assessment tax returns for 2017/18 should have been filed online by midnight on 31 January 2019, and self-assessment returns for 2018/19 must be filed online by midnight on 31 January 2020.

Returns do not have to be filed online – paper returns can be submitted. However, an earlier deadline of 31 October after the end of the tax year applies, so 31 October 2018 for 2017/18 paper self-assessment returns and 31 October 2019 for 2018/19 paper self-assessment returns.

A later deadline may apply if the notice to file the return was issued after 31 October following the end of the tax year. In this scenario, the deadline is three months from the date of issue of the notice to file, which will fall after the normal 31 January deadline. For example, if notice is given on 2 December, the filing deadline is the following 2 March. Where the notice to file is issued after 31 July but on or before 31 October, the deadline for filing a paper return is three months from the date of the notice (which will be after the usual 31 October deadline); however, the deadline for filing an online return will remain at 31 January, as this will be at least three months from the notice date.

Late returns

Penalties are charged where tax returns are filed late (unless, the taxpayer can demonstrate that they have a reasonable excuse for filing late which is acceptable to HMRC). The penalties can soon mount up.

A penalty will apply where a paper return is not filed by 31 October after the end of the tax year (or such later deadline as applies where the notice to file was issued after 31 July) or where an online return is not filed by 31 January after the end of the tax year (or by such later deadline as applies where the notice to file was issued after 31 October). If the paper filing deadline is missed, a penalty can be avoided by filing a return online by the online filing deadline.

Penalty amounts

An initial penalty of £100 is charged if the filing deadline is missed. The penalty applies even if there is no tax to pay.

If the return remains outstanding three months after the filing deadline, further penalties start to apply. For online returns, the key date here is 1 May, from which a daily penalty of £10 per day is charged for a maximum of 90 days (a maximum of £900). At this point, it is advisable to file the return as soon as possible – each day’s delay costs a further £10 in penalties.

Further penalties are due if the return remains outstanding after another three months have elapsed (i.e. at 1 August where an online return was not filed by 31 January). In this case, the penalty is £300 or, if greater, 5% of the tax outstanding.

A further penalty of the greater of £300 or 5% of the tax outstanding is charged if the return has not been filed 12 months after the deadline (i.e. before the following 1 February).

The penalties can soon mount up, and can reach £1,600 or more where the return is 12 months late. Outstanding returns should be filed as a matter of urgency. Penalties are also charged for any tax paid late.

Partner note: TMA 1970, s. 8; FA 2009, Sch. 55, para. 3 – 6.

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IR35 -

Have you been affected by IR35?

Getting ready for off-payroll working changes

From 6 April 2020 the off-payroll working rules that have applied since 6 April 2017 where the end client is a public sector body are to be extended to large and medium private sector organisations who engage workers providing their services through an intermediary, such as a personal service company.

There are tax and National Insurance advantages to working ‘off-payroll’ for both the engager and the worker. The typical off-payroll scenario is the worker providing his or her services through an intermediary, such as a personal service company. Providing services via an intermediary is only a problem where the worker would be an employee of the end client if the services were provided directly to that end client. In this situation, the IR35 off-payroll anti-avoidance rules apply and the intermediary (typically a personal service company) should work out the deemed payment arising under the IR35 rules and pay the associated tax and National Insurance over to HMRC.

New rules

Compliance with IR35 has always been a problem and it is difficult for HMRC to police. In an attempt to address this, responsibility for deciding whether the rules apply was moved up to the end client where this is a public sector body with effect from 6 April 2017. Where the relationship is such that the worker would be an employee if the services were supplied direct to the public sector body, the fee payer (either the public sector end client or a third party, such as an agency) must deduct tax and National Insurance from payments made to the intermediary.

These rules are to be extended from 6 April 2020 to apply where the end client is a large or medium-sized private sector organisation. This will apply if at least two of the following apply:

  • turnover of more than 10.2 million;
  • balance sheet total of more than £5.1 million;
  • more than 50 employees.

Where the end client is ‘small’, the IR35 rules apply as now, with the intermediary remaining responsible for determining whether they apply and working out the deemed payment if they do.

Getting ready for the changes

To prepare for the changes, HMRC recommend that medium and large private sector companies should:

  • look at their current workforce (including those engaged through agencies and intermediaries) to identify those individuals who are supplying their services through personal service companies;
  • determine whether the off-payroll rules will apply for any contracts that extend beyond 6 April 2020 (HMRC’s Check Employment Status for Tax (CEST) tool can be used to determine a worker’s status);
  • start talking to contractors about whether the off-payroll rules apply to their role; and
  • put processes in place to determine if the off-payroll working rules will apply to future engagements. These may include assigning responsibility for making a determination and determining how payments will be made to contractors who fall within the off-payroll working rules.

Workers affected by the changes should also consider whether it is worth remaining ‘off-payroll’; providing their services as an employee may be less hassle all round.

Partner note: ITEPA 2003, Pt. 2, Ch.10.

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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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