Here are some tax planning tips for workplace pensions if you have employees.

An increase in the minimum contributions employers and their staff must pay into their automatic enrolment workplace pension scheme took effect from 6 April 2019.

From that date, the employer minimum contribution has risen from 2% to 3%, while the staff contribution also increased from 3% to 5%. As part of the ‘phasing’ process, the increases mean that total contributions for employees have gone up from 5% to 8%. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that these increases are properly implemented.

The increases do not apply to employers using defined benefits pension schemes.

The amount that the employer and the employee pay into the pension scheme will vary depending on the type of scheme chosen and its associated rules. The employee contribution may also vary depending on the type of tax relief applied by the scheme. The majority of employers use pension schemes that from April 2019 require a total minimum of 8% contribution to be paid. The calculation for this type of scheme is based on a specific range of earnings. For the 2019/20 tax year this range is between £6,136 and £50,000 a year (£512 and £4,167 a month, or £118 and £962 a week).

For calculating the minimum contributions payable for this type of scheme the following amounts are included:

  • salary
  • wages
  • commission
  • bonuses
  • overtime
  • statutory sick pay (SSP)
  • statutory maternity pay (SMP)
  • ordinary or additional statutory paternity pay
  • statutory adoption pay

Although most pension schemes use these elements for calculating contributions, it might be a good time to recheck the scheme documents to make sure everything is in order.

All employers with staff in a pension scheme for automatic enrolment must ensure that they implement the changes and ensure that at least the new minimum amounts are being paid into their pension scheme. This applies whether the employer set up a pension scheme for automatic enrolment or they are using an existing scheme.

The Pensions Regulator provides an online contributions calculator to help employers work out costs for each member of staff. The calculator can be found at https://www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk/en/employers/work-out-your-automatic-enrolment-costs.

No action is required where an employer does not have any staff in a pension scheme for automatic enrolment, or if amounts above the statutory minimum are already being paid. However, employers still need to assess anyone who works for them each time they are paid, and put them into a pension scheme if they meet the criteria for automatic enrolment. The employer must contribute at least the right minimum amount at the time and any further increases required.

As well as the obligation to continue paying into the pension scheme, manage requests to join or leave the scheme, and keep records, employers are also obliged to carry out a re-enrolment check every three years to put back in any staff who have left their pension scheme.

Tax planning points

Remember that people other than the holder can invest in the holder’s pension. For example, an individual could contribute to a spouse or partner’s personal pension, or even to a child’s personal pension to allow them to start building up retirement benefits from an early age.

The number of different pension schemes that a person can belong to is not restricted, although there are limits on the total amounts that can be contributed across all schemes each year.

It is also worth remembering that non-earners can pay £2,880 a year into a pension and receive an automatic 20% boost to their contribution in tax relief. This means that on a contribution of £240 per month, the actual amount invested in the pension scheme will be £300.

Partner Note: Pensions Act 2008; Finance Act 2004, s 188

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Is the summer party tax-free?

A statutory exemption exists, which allows employers to meet the cost of certain social events for staff without triggering a liability to tax or NICs, providing certain conditions are met.

The legislation refers to ‘an annual party or similar annual function’. Although HMRC do not seem to interpret this to mean that the same event must be held every year, it may be prudent to check the issue in advance where a one-off event is planned.

Conditions

A staff event will qualify as a tax-free benefit if the following conditions are satisfied:

  • the total cost must not exceed £150 per head, per year
  • the event must be primarily for entertaining staff
  • the event must be open to employees generally, or to those at a particular location, if the employer has numerous branches or departments

The ‘cost per head’ of an event is the total cost (including VAT) of providing:

  1. the event, and
  2. any transport or accommodation incidentally provided for persons attending it (whether or not they are the employer’s employees), divided by the number of those persons.

Provided the £150 limit is not exceeded, any number of parties or events may be held during the tax year, for example, there could be three parties held at various times, each costing £50 per head.

The £150 is a limit, not an allowance – if the limit is exceeded by just £1, the whole amount must be reported to HMRC.

If there are two parties, for example, where the combined cost of each exceeds £150, the £150 limit is offset against the most expensive one, leaving the other one as a fully taxable benefit.

Example

ABC Ltd pays for an annual Christmas party costing £150 per head and a summer barbecue costing £75 per head. The Christmas party would be covered by the exemption, but employees would be taxed on summer barbecue costs, as a benefit-in-kind.

Tax treatment for employers

The cost of staff events is tax deductible for the business. The legislation provides a let-out clause, which means that entertaining staff is not treated for tax in the same way as customer entertaining. The expenses will be shown separately in the business accounts – usually as ‘staff welfare’ costs or similar.

There is no monetary limit on the amount that an employer can spend on an annual function. If a staff party costs more than £150 per head, the cost will still be an allowable deduction, but the employees will have a liability to pay tax and National Insurance Contributions (NICs) arising on the benefit-in-kind.

The employer may agree to settle any tax charge arising on behalf of the employees. This may be done using a HMRC PAYE Settlement Agreement (PSA), which means that the benefits do not need to be taxed under PAYE, or included on the employees’ forms P11D. The employer’s tax liability under the PSA must be paid to HMRC by 19 October following the end of the tax year to which the payment relates.

It should also be noted that whilst the £150 exemption is mirrored for Class 1 NIC purposes, (so that if the limit is not exceeded, no liability arises for the employees), Class 1B NICs at the current rate of 13.8%, will be payable by the employer on benefits-in-kind which are subject to a PSA.

The full cost of staff parties and/or events will be disallowed for tax if it is found that the entertainment of staff is in fact incidental to that of entertaining customers.

VAT-registered businesses can claim back input VAT on the costs, but this may be restricted where this includes entertaining customers.

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Family companies – optimal salary for 2019/20

For personal and family companies it can be beneficial to extract some profits in the form of a salary. Where the individual does not have the 35 qualifying years necessary to qualify for the full single-tier state pension, paying a salary which is equal to or above the lower earnings limit for National Insurance purposes will ensure that the year is a qualifying year.

New tax rates and allowances came into effect from 6 April 2019, applying for the 2019/20 tax year. These have an impact on the optimal salary calculation for family and personal companies. As in previous years, the optimal salary level will depend on whether or not the National Insurance employment allowance is available.

It should be remembered that directors have an annual earnings period for National Insurance purposes.

Employment allowance unavailable

Companies in which the sole employee is also a director are not able to benefit from the employment allowance. This means that most personal companies are not eligible for the allowance. Where the allowance is not available or has been utilised elsewhere, the optimal salary for 2019/20 is equal to the primary and secondary threshold set at £8,632 (equivalent to £719 per month and £166 per week).

At this level, assuming that the director’s personal allowance (set at £12,500) is available, there is no tax or employer’s or employee’s National Insurance to pay. However, as the salary is above the lower earnings limit of £6,136 (£512 per month, £118 per week), it will provide a qualifying year for state pension and contributory benefit purposes.

The salary is deductible in computing the company’s taxable profits for corporation tax purposes, saving corporation tax of 19%.

Employment allowance is available

It is beneficial to pay a salary equal to the personal allowance (assuming that this is not used elsewhere) where the employment allowance (set at £3,000 for 2019/20) is available to shelter the employer’s National Insurance that would otherwise arise to the extent that the salary exceeds £8,632.

Although employee’s National Insurance is payable to the extent that the salary exceeds the primary threshold of £8,632, this is more than offset by the corporation tax deduction on the higher salary.

For 2019/20, a salary equal to the personal allowance of £12,500 exceeds the primary threshold by £3,868. Therefore, employee’s National Insurance of £464.16 (£3,868 @ 12%) is payable on a salary of £12,500. However, as salary payments are deductible for corporation tax purposes, the additional salary of £3,868 saves corporation tax of £734.92 (£3,868 @ 19%). This exceeds the employee’s National Insurance payable by £270.46.

So, if the employment allowance is available, paying a salary equal to the personal allowance of £12,500 allows more profits to be retained (to the tune of £270.46) than paying a salary equal to the primary threshold of £8,632.

If the director has a higher personal allowance, for example, where he or she receives the marriage allowance, the optimal salary is one equal to that higher personal allowance.

Director is under 21

Where the director is under the age of 21, the optimal salary is one equal to the personal allowance of £12,500 (assuming that this is not used elsewhere) regardless of whether the employment allowance is available. No employer National Insurance is payable on the earnings of employees or directors under the age of 21 until their earnings exceeds the upper secondary threshold for under 21’s set at £50,000 for 2019/20. Employee contributions are, however, payable as normal

Any benefit in paying a salary above the personal allowance?

Once the personal allowance is reached it is not worthwhile paying a higher salary as further salary payments will be taxed and the combined tax and National Insurance hit will outweigh the corporation tax savings.

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Here’s how to earn tax-free money through doing something you love.

Spare time earnings may be tax-free

The new trading tax allowance for individuals of £1,000 was introduced from 6 April 2017 and applies for the 2017/18 tax year onwards. In broad terms, the allowance means that individuals with trading income below the annual threshold may not need to report it to HMRC and may not need to pay tax on it.

This allowance may be particularly useful to individuals with casual or small part time earnings from self-employment, for example, people working in the ‘gig economy’ (Deliveroo workers and such like), or small-scale self-employment such as online selling (maybe via eBay or similar). It means that:

  • individuals with trading income of £1,000 or less in a tax year will not need to declare or pay tax on that income
  • individuals with trading income of more than £1,000 can elect to calculate their profits by deducting the allowance from their income, instead of the actual allowable expenses.

Practical implications of the allowance include:

  • where actual expenses are less than £1,000, deducting the trading allowance will be beneficial, whereas if actual expenses are more than £1,000, deducting the actual expenses will give a lower profit figure, and ultimately a lower tax bill
  • where income is less than £1,000, but the individual makes a loss, an election for the allowance not to apply may be made – in this case, the loss in the usual way and include the details on their tax return, meaning that loss relief is not wasted

Example – Income less than £1,000

Graham enjoys picture-framing in his spare time, and he occasionally frames prints for family and friends for a small fee. During the 2018/19 tax year he received income of £700 from this source, and his expenditure on framing equipment amounted to £300. As Graham’s trading income is less than £1,000, he does not need to report it to HMRC and he does not need to pay tax or national insurance contributions (NICs) on it.

Example – Income exceeding £1,000

Mary enjoys baking and makes celebration cakes to order in her spare time. In 2018/19, her income from cake sales is £1,500 and she incurred expenses of £300. As Mary’s expenditure is less than £1,000, she will be better off if she claims the trading allowance. Her taxable profit will be £500 (£1,500 less the trading allowance of £1,000).

More than one source of trading income

Although the trading allowance may work well for many small-scale traders, care must be taken where a person’s main source of income is from self-employment and their secondary income is from a completely separate small-scale business. HMRC will combine income from all trading and casual activities when considering the trading allowance. In this type of situation, where the allowance is claimed, the individual will not be able to claim for any expenditure, regardless of how many businesses they have and how much their total business expenses are.

Example – More than one income source

Mark is a self-employed car mechanic and has income of £30,000 in 2018/19. His business expenditure for the year is £10,000. In his spare time, Mark buys and sells old collectable car magazines via the internet. During 2018/19 he received net income of £1,000 from this source. If Mark claims the trading allowance against his part time income, he will be unable to claim expenses of £10,000 against his car mechanic income, and his taxable profit for the year will be £30,000. If he doesn’t claim the trading allowance, his taxable profit for the year will be just £21,000.

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Year-end tax planning tips

As the end of the 2018/19 tax year approaches, it is worthwhile taking time for some last-minute tax planning.

Here are some simple tips that may save you money.

  1. Preserve your personal allowance: the personal allowance is reduced by £1 for every £2 by which income exceeds £100,000. For 2018/19, the personal tax allowance is £11,850, meaning that it is lost entirely once income exceeds £123,700. Where income falls between £100,000 and £123,700, the effect of the taper means that the marginal rate of tax is a whopping 60%. Where income is over £100,000, consider making pension contributions or charitable donations to reduce income and preserve the personal allowance. Where this is an option, consider also deferring income until after 6 April 2019 to reduce 2018/19 income.
  2. Claim the marriage allowance: the marriage allowance can save a couple tax of £238 in 2018/19. Where an individual is unable to utilise their personal allowance, they can make use of the marriage allowance to transfer 10% of their personal allowance (rounded up to the nearest £10) to their spouse or civil partner, as long as neither pay tax at the higher or additional rate. The marriage allowance must be claimed.
  3. Pay dividends to use up the dividend allowance: family and personal companies with sufficient retained profits should consider paying dividends to shareholders who have not yet used up their dividend allowance for 2018/19. The dividend allowance is set at £2,000 and is available to all individuals, regardless of the rate at which they pay tax. The use of an alphabet share structure enables individuals to tailor dividend payments according to the individual’s circumstances.
  4. Make pension contributions: tax relieved pension contributions can be made up to 100% of earnings, capped at the level of the annual allowance. The annual allowance is set at £40,000 for 2018/19 (subject to the reduction for high earners). Where the annual allowance is not used up in year, it can be carried forward for up to three years.
  5. Transfer income-earning assets to a spouse or civil partner: where one spouse or civil partner has unused personal allowances or has not fully utilised their basic rate band, considering transferring income earning assets into their name to reduce the combined tax liability (but non-tax considerations such as loss of ownership should be taken into account).
  6. Put assets in joint name prior to sale: spouses and civil partners can transfer assets between them at a value that gives rise to neither a gain nor a loss. This can be useful prior to selling an asset which will realise a gain in order to take advantage of both partners’ annual exempt amount for capital gains tax purposes.
  7. Make gifts for inheritance tax purposes: individuals have an annual exemption for inheritance tax of £3,000, allowing them to make gifts free of inheritance tax each year. Where the allowance is not used, it can be carried forward to the next year, but is then lost.

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Salary v dividend for 2019/20

A popular profits extraction strategy for personal and family companies is to extract a small salary, taking further profits as dividends. Where this strategy is pursued for 2019/20, what level should be the salary be set at to ensure the strategy remain tax efficient?

Salary
As well as being tax effective, taking a small salary is also advantageous in that it allows the individual to secure a qualifying year for State Pension and contributory benefits purposes.
Assuming the personal allowance has not been used elsewhere and is available to set against the salary, the optimal salary level for 2019/20 depends on whether the employment allowance is available and whether the employee is under the age of 21. The employment allowance is set at £3,000 for 2019/20 but is not available to companies where the sole employee is also a director (meaning that personal companies do not generally benefit).

In the absence of the employment allowance and where the individual is aged 21 or over, the optimal salary for 2019/20 is equal to the primary threshold, i.e. £8,632 a year (equivalent to £719 per month). At this level, no employee’s or employer’s National Insurance or tax is due. The salary is also deductible for corporation tax purposes. A bonus is that a salary at this level means that the year is a qualifying year for state pension and contributory benefits purposes – for zero contribution cost. Beyond this level, it is better to take dividends than pay a higher salary as the combined National Insurance hit (25.8%) is higher than the corporation tax deduction for salary payments.

Where the employment allowance is available, or the employee is under 21, it is tax-efficient to pay a higher salary equal to the personal allowance of £12,500. As long as the personal allowance is available, the salary will be tax free. It will also be free of employer’s National Insurance, either because the liability is offset by the employment allowance or, if the individual is under 21, because earnings are below the upper secondary threshold for under 21s (set at £50,000 for 2019/20). The salary paid in excess of the primary threshold (£3,868) will attract primary contributions of £464.16, but this is outweighed by the corporation tax saving on the additional salary of £734.92 – a net saving of £279.76. Once a salary equal to the personal allowance is reached, the benefit of the corporation tax deduction is lost as any further salary is taxable. It is tax efficient to extract further profits as dividends.

Dividends
Dividends can only be paid if the company has sufficient retained profits available. Unlike salary payments, dividends are not tax-deductible and are paid out of profits on which corporation tax (at 19%) has already been paid.
However, dividends benefit from their own allowance – set at £2,000 for 2019/20 and payable to all individuals regardless of the rate at which they pay tax – and once the allowance has been used, dividends are taxed at lower rates than salary payments (7.5%, 32.5% and 38.1% rather than 20%, 40% and 45%).

Once the optimal salary has been paid, dividends should be paid to use up the dividend allowance. If further profits are to be extracted, there will be tax to pay, but the combined tax and National Insurance hit for dividends is less than for salary payments, making them the preferred option.

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Does the marriage allowance apply to you?

The marriage allowance can be beneficial to married couples and civil partners on lower incomes. Claiming the marriage allowance is worth up to £238 in 2018/19 and £250 in 2019/20.

Nature of the allowance
The marriage allowance allows one spouse of civil partner to transfer 10% of their personal allowance (rounded up to the nearest £10) to their partner if they are unable to utilise the full allowance. However, it is only available where the recipient pays tax at the basic rate – couples where one party has no income and the other party is a higher or additional rate taxpayer cannot benefit from the allowance.
A personal can transfer 10% of their personal allowance to their spouse or civil partner if:
• they are married or in a civil partnership;
• they have not used up all of their personal allowance (set at £11,850 for 2018/19 and at £12,500 for 2019/20);
• and their partner pays tax at the basic rate.

For Scottish taxpayers, the marriage allowance is available if the recipient pays tax at the Scottish starter, basic or intermediate rates.
For 2018/19 the personal allowance is £11,850 and the marriage allowance is £1,190. For 2019/20, the personal allowance is £12,500 and the marriage allowance is £1,250.
Impact of the marriage allowance
Where the marriage allowance is claimed, the transferor’s personal allowance for the year is reduced by the amount of the allowance and the transferees personal allowance is increased by the amount of the allowance. Instead of that portion of the personal allowance being wasted, it is set against the transferee’s income, saving tax at the basic (or relevant Scottish) rate.

Example
Lauren is a stay-at-home mum. She has no income in either 2018/19 or 2019/20.
Her husband Joe works as an electrician earning £20,000 a year.
They claim the marriage allowance for both 2018/19 and 2019/20.
For 2018/19, the allowance is £1,190. By claiming the allowance, Lauren’s personal allowance is reduced to £10,660 (£11,850 – £1,190) and Joe’s personal allowance is increased to £13,040 (£11,850 + £1,190). Their combined personal allowances remain at £23,700, but utilising the marriage allowance to increase Joe’s allowance while reducing Lauren’s saves them £238 (£1,190 @ 20%) in tax.
If they claim the marriage allowance of £1,250 for 2019/20, Lauren’s personal allowance will fall to £11,250 (£12,500 – £1,250), while Joe’s personal allowance will increase to £13,750. Claiming the allowance will save them tax of £250 (£1,250 @ 20%) for 2019/20.
The allowance will still be effective where the partner with the lower income does not fully utilise the allowance, even if as a result, they have some tax to pay as a result of making the claim.

Example
In 2018/19, Max has income of £11,000 and his wife Amy has income of £17,000. Claiming the marriage allowance will reduce Max’s personal allowance to £10,660, meaning he will pay tax of £68 ((£11,000 – £10,660) @ 20%). However, Amy’s personal allowance will increase to £13,040, saving her tax of £238. As a couple they are £170 better off (£238 – £68).

How to claim
The marriage allowance can be claimed online: see www.gov.uk/apply-marriage-allowance. Once a claim is made it will apply automatically for subsequent tax years, unless cancelled or circumstances claim. A claim can be backdated to include any tax year since 5 April 2015 for which the qualifying conditions are met.
The allowance can also be claimed for the year in which one partner dies.

Impact on tax codes
Where the marriage allowance is claimed, both the transferor’s and transferee’s tax code are amended as a result. A code with a ‘M’ suffix denotes that the individual has received the marriage allowance, whereas a ‘N’ suffix denotes that the individual has transferred 10% of their personal allowance to their spouse or civil partner.
In the above example, Lauren would have a tax code of 1066N for 2018/19, while Joe’s tax code would be 1,304M. For 2019/20, Lauren’s tax code would be 1125N, while Joe’s tax code would be 1375M.

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Would you rent out a property as a long-term rental or holiday let?

Where a property is located in a holiday region, a consideration will be whether to let it as a holiday let or on a longer-term basis. As well as differing rental income profiles, there are tax differences to consider.

Furnished holiday lets

From a tax perspective, special rules apply to furnished holiday lets, which provide a number of advantages compared to the tax regime applying to other rental business.

Furnished holiday lettings:

  • benefit from capital gains tax reliefs for traders such as business asset rollover relief, entrepreneurs’ relief, relief for gifts of business assets and relief for loans to traders;
  • benefit from availability of plant and machinery capital allowances for items of furniture, fixtures and fittings; and
  • profits count as earnings for pension purposes.

To benefit from these advantages, any furnished holiday lettings are treated separately from other lets and the profits must be worked out separately for each furnished holiday lettings business.

What counts as a furnished holiday let

The property must be in the UK or the EEA and must be let furnished; the furniture provided must be sufficient for normal occupation and visitors must be able to use the furniture. The property must also be commercially let.

UK and EEA lets are treated as different furnished holiday lettings businesses.

The furnished holiday letting must also pass various tests.

The occupancy tests

There are three occupancy tests and all must be met for the property to be treated as a furnished holiday letting for tax purposes.

The pattern of occupation condition

A let will not count as a furnished holiday letting if the total of all lettings that exceed 31 days is more than 155 days in the tax year.

The availability condition

The property must be available for letting as a furnished holiday accommodation for at least 210 days in the tax year.

The letting condition

The property must be commercially let as furnished holiday accommodation for at least 105 days in the tax year. Longer lets of more than 31 days are excluded, unless the let extends beyond 31 days due to unforeseen circumstances.

If the property fails the letting condition and is not let for 105 days in the tax year, there are two concessionary routes by which the property may still qualify – by making an averaging election or a period of grace election. The elections can be used together.

Averaging election

Where a landlord has more than one property which is let as furnished holiday accommodation, the condition is treated as met where an averaging election is made as long as on average each property is let for at least 105 days in the tax year. So, for example, if a landlord has 4 properties which in total were let on lets of less than 31 days for at least 420 days, the letting conditions is met under an averaging election, even if any individual property is let for less than 105 days.

An averaging election must be made by the anniversary of 31 January following the end of the tax year, i.e. by 31 January 2021 for 2018/19.

Period of grace election

The second way in which the condition can be treated as met is by making a period of grace election where it can be shown that there was a genuine intention to let the property, but this did not happen due to unforeseen circumstances. The letting condition must have been met in the year before that for which the first period of grace election is made. A second period of grace election is permitted, but if a property does not meet the letting threshold in the fourth year after two consecutive period of grace elections, it will no longer qualify as a furnished holiday letting.

Losses

Losses can now only be carried forward and set against profits from the same furnished holiday lets business.

If the property does not qualify as a furnished holiday let, the normal tax rules for rental businesses apply.

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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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Importance of registering for child benefit even if the High-Income Child Benefit charge applies

Parents affected by the High-Income Child Benefit charge (HICBC) can be forgiven for thinking that there is no point is registering for child benefit if they are only going to have to give back everything they receive in the form of the tax.

The HICBC applies where the parent claiming child benefit or their partner has income of more than £50,000 a year. The charge is set at 1% of the child benefit received for each £100 by which income exceeds £50,000. So, for example, if income is £57,000, the charge is equal to 70% of the child benefit received (((£57,000 – £50,000)/£100) x 1%). Once income reaches £60,000, the charge is equal to 100% of the child benefit received. The amount of child benefit received depends on the number of children – it is payable at a rate of £20.70 per week for the first child and £13.70 per week for each subsequent child. Where both partners have income in excess of £50,000, the charge is levied on the partner with the higher income; this is often not the person who received the benefit.

Child benefit also confers state pension rights. Parents registered for child benefit in respect of a child under 12 automatically receive Class 3 National Insurance credits. Class 3 credits have the effect of making a year a qualifying year for state pension (but not contributory benefit) purposes. Thus, each year that a parent is registered for child benefit for a child under 12 provides one qualifying year for state benefit purposes. A person needs 35 qualifying years for the full single-tier state pension and at least ten to receive a reduced state pension.

Failing to register for child benefit can mean missing out on an automatic entitlement to at least 12 qualifying years; this is particularly important if the claimant is a stay-at-home parent or works part time but does not pay sufficient Class 1 or 2 contributions to make the year a qualifying year.

If receiving the money and having to pay it back is a worry, it needn’t be. It is possible to register for child benefit and to elect not to receive it. This can be done online or by contacting HMRC’s child benefit office. Parents can restart the payment of child benefit if circumstances change and the full HICBC no longer applies (for example if income dips below £60,000). Where income is between £50,000 and £60,000 it is worth claiming the benefit as the HICBC will be less than the benefit received. Ring-fencing the amount needed to pay the charge in a separate account will remove some of the worry over having the funds available to pay the tax.

As claims for child benefit can only be backdated three months, parents affected by the HICBC who have opted not to claim child benefit should do so without delay. Registering for child benefit will also ensure that the child receives a National Insurance number on reaching age 16.

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