Tax-free investments using Premium Bonds

Premium Bonds (PBs) are an investment product issued and maintained by National Savings and Investments (NS&I), which in turn, is backed by HM Treasury. With a return rate comparable with regular savings accounts (currently 1.40%), it is not difficult to see why PBs remain one of Britain’s favourite ways to save – around 21 million people currently have almost £72 billion invested in PBs.
The Autumn Budget on 29 October 2018 included a range of enhancements to PBs, aiming to encourage a stronger savings habit and boost the opportunity for young people to save. The changes should also help make PBs more accessible to everyone.
Currently the minimum amount of PBs that can be purchased is £100 (or £50 by standing order). This minimum investment limit will be cut to £25 by the end of March 2019. This will apply to both one-off purchases and regular savings and should help make this product more accessible for a wider range of people.
In addition, the rules on who can purchase PBs are being changed. Currently, only parents and grandparents can buy PBs for children under 16. Although the timescale is yet to be confirmed, it has been announced that in future it will be permissible for other adults to buy PBs on behalf of children. The person purchasing the bonds for children will have to be over 16 and must nominate one of the child’s parents or guardians to look after the bonds until the child turns 16.
Once held for a full month, bonds are included in a monthly draw and the investor stands a chance of winning a cash prize. The larger monthly prizes currently include two £1 million prizes, five £100,000 prizes and eleven £50,000 prizes.
The maximum Premium Bond holding is £50,000 and there do not appear to be any current plans to increase this limit.
Weighing up the pros and cons
Before making or increasing an investment in PBs, it may be worthwhile taking time to consider a few pros and cons, including:
Pros
• All investments are effectively government-backed, so all money put into PBs is secure.
• A married couple or civil partners may invest a sizeable £100,000 between them.
• There is a very small chance that the holder could receive a very high return on an investment.
• Any prizes won are free from income and capital gains tax.

Cons
• No regular interest payments are made on investments in PBs.
• Most people who buy PBs will earn only a small amount as a percentage of the money they contribute.
• Unless the investor wins one of the bigger prizes, their return is unlikely to beat inflation.
• It can take up to eight working days for the money to reach the investor’s account when PBs are cashed in.
Electronic investments
NS&I has confirmed that it will be launching a new PB app, which is designed ‘to make saving easier’. Following the success of the NS&I Premium Bonds prize checker app, the new app will allow customers to buy and manage their PBs as well as most other NS&I accounts.
Summary
Although Premium Bonds are not strictly an ‘investment’, they can be encashed at any time with the full amount of invested capital being returned – and in the meantime, any returns by way of ‘winnings’ will be tax-free. The odds on winning a prize in any one month are currently 24,500 to one, and there is a negligible chance of winning a million. With the full facts in mind – investing in PBs stills presents a half-decent option for many.

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Employee Benefits, Tax free

More than 25 million working days are lost annually due to work-related ill health matters, including the two leading causes of workplace absence, namely back injuries and stress, depression or anxiety. There are however, several areas where employers can use tax breaks and exemptions to help promote health and fitness at work.

Gym facilities and memberships

In-house gym facilities may be offered to employees at a convenient location to fit in around work and there will be no tax or NIC liability arising if the following conditions are satisfied:

  • the facilities must be available for use by all employees, but not to the general public;
  • they must be used mainly by employees, former employees or members of employees’ families and households (employees of any companies grouped together with to provide the facilities also count);
  • the facilities must not be located in a private home, holiday or other overnight accommodation (including any associated sporting facilities); and
  • they must not involve use of a mechanically propelled vehicle (including road vehicles, boats and aircraft).

For employers who cannot practically provide in-house gym facilities, it may be possible to negotiate favourable membership rates with a local gym or leisure centre. Whilst this may lead to a tax liability for employees, the preferential rate can often be up to 20% – 30% cheaper than the normal price, so this is still an attractive offer for employees.  Depending on how the cost of the gym membership is funded, the fees will either be taxed as earnings or as a taxable benefit-in-kind. So, for example, if an employer gives the employee additional salary to pay for their gym membership, the money is taxed as earnings through PAYE. If the employer pays the gym membership direct, a taxable benefit-in-kind arises on the employee and should be reported to HMRC on form P11D, or through the payroll.

Where an employer pays for a gym membership and the employee contributes towards the cost from their net pay (after tax and NICs), this is referred to as ‘making good’. The amount of the benefit (cost of gym membership) is reduced by the amount of the contribution.

Health-screening, check-ups and recommended treatments

A tax and NIC-free exemption allows employers to fund one health-screening assessment and/or one medical check-up per year per employee.

Subject to an annual cap of £500 per employee, employer expenditure on medical treatments recommended by employer-arranged occupational health services may be exempt for tax and NICs. ‘Medical treatment’ means all procedures for diagnosing or treating any physical or mental illness, infirmity or defect. Broadly, in order for the exemption to apply, the employee must have either:

  • been assessed by a health care professional as unfit for work (or will be unfit for work) because of injury or ill health for at least 28 consecutive days;
  • been absent from work because of injury or ill health for at least 28 consecutive days.

Employer-funded eye, eyesight test, and ‘special corrective appliances’ (i.e. glasses or contact lenses) may also be exempt for ta and NICs, providing certain conditions are satisfied.

Many employees struggle to fit physical activity into their busy working days but research shows that being active for just one hour can offset the potential harm of being inactive. As fitness and health issues become increasingly popular, anything an employer can do to help is likely to be most welcomed by employees.

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Rent-a-room: Can you benefit?

Rent-a-room relief was introduced to encourage people to let spare rooms in their own home in order to increase the supply of low-cost rental accommodation. In return, the recipient is able to earn up to £7,500 a year tax-free.

Plans to restrict the relief so that it was only available where the occupation by the tenant overlapped with that of the landlord for at least one night have been abandoned – meaning that it is still possible to benefit from the relief for Airbnb-type lets where the property may be rented out for a short time in the landlord’s absence. It can also be used by those running a bed-and-breakfast.

Qualifying accommodation

To qualify the accommodation must be let furnished in the landlord’s home – it does not matter whether the home is owned or rented (but where rented, check that sub-letting is permitted). Where more than one person benefits from the income, the tax-free limit is halved, regardless of how many people share the income.

The relief

Rental income up to the rent-a-room limit is tax-free and does not need to be reported to HMRC. Where the rental income is more, the landlord has a choice:

  • work out rental profit in the usual way by deducting expenses from the rental income;
  • deduct the rent-a-room limit from the rental income and pay tax on the difference.

Using the rent-a-room limit will be beneficial where this is more than actual expenses. Where this route is taken, the relief should be claimed on the self-assessment tax return by ticking the appropriate box.

Case study 1

John is single and has a two-bedroom house. He lets out his spare room for £400 a month. He qualifies for rent-a-room relief. As his rental income of £4,800 is less than the rent-a-room limit, he does not need to declare it to HMRC.

Case study 2

Rob and Fiona are keen hikers and go away each weekend in the summer. They let out their Brighton flat via Airbnb while they are away. In 2018/19 they earned rental income £6,000, which they shared equally.

Rob and Fiona share the income and each have a rent-a-room limit of £3,750. As the rental income from letting out the flat (£3,000 each) is less than their rent-a-room limit, they are eligible for rent-a-room relief and do not need to report the income to HMRC.

Case study 3

Julie runs a B and B in Cheltenham. In 2018/19, she receives rental income of £12,000. Her expenses are £3,000.

As her rental income is more than £7,500 she must report it to HMRC. However, she can still benefit from rent-a-room relief by opting to work out her profit by deducting the rent-a-room limit of £7,500 rather than actual costs of £3,000. Thus, her taxable profit is only £4,500, rather than £9,000 (which would be the profit in the absence of rent-a-room relief). By claiming the relief, she will save tax of £900 if she is a basic rate taxpayer and tax of £1,800 if she is a higher rate taxpayer.

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