Time to review your salary sacrifice?

Post by Mearns & Company in News

New rules for taxing many salary sacrifice arrangements come into force from 6th April

One of the recent trends in the provision of employee benefits has been increase flexibility. Instead of pay and, if you were lucky, a company car and healthcare, ‘cafeteria remuneration’ has become more common. This is the term given to providing employees with a menu of benefits such as extra holidays, gym membership and mobile phones in return for sacrificing pay. Employers and employees have both gained from these arrangements:

  • The employer saved on national insurance contributions (NICs) at a rate of 13.8% of pay, although some – or even all – of that reduced bill may have been passed on to the employee.
  • The employee also saved NICs, generally at 12% if they were basic rate taxpayers and 2% if they paid higher or additional rates.
  • Crucially, the taxable value of the benefit was less than the pay forgone. In some instances, such as the mobile phone or gym membership, the tax liability was nil.

The main loser from salary sacrifice arrangements has been HM Treasury, so it was little surprise when George Osborne signalled a review in last year’s Budget. This produced a consultative document that has now been transformed into draft legislation.

The changes, which took effect from the start of the 2017/2018 tax year, remove most of the advantages of salary sacrifice, with a few important exceptions. For new schemes, income tax and employer’s NICs will be based on the greater of:

  • The salary forgone; or
  • The taxable value of the benefit received (which will be less, as otherwise the arrangement would normally not make sense).

There are some inevitable transitional measures for arrangements in force before 6th April 2017, but apart from cars, employer-provided accommodation and school fees funding, the new rules will bite in no more than 12 months’ time.

There is also a handful of specific exemptions, one of the most important of which is salary sacrifice arrangements for pension contributions. These continue to provide major benefits, as the example below shows.

Frank is a higher rate taxpayer who normally contributes £5,000 a year (before tax relief) to a self-invested personal pension. Instead, he could sacrifice £4,394 of his salary to achieve the same result via an employer pension contribution and save £778 in salary (an extra £451 net, after tax and NICs), assuming his employer rebates their full NIC saving:

Personal PaymentSalary sacrifice
Salary£5,172£4,394
Employer’s NIC Saving @ 13.8%-£606
Employee’s NIC @ 2%-£103
Tax @ 40%-£2,069
Net income£3,000
Pension Contribution net of tax reliefs£3,000
Tax relief £5,000 @ 40%£2,000
Gross Pension Contribution£5,000£5,000

For a personalised illustration of how salary sacrifice could boost your pension contributions, please talk to us. It could make up for the extra tax you will end up paying on other sacrifice arrangements…

The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. The value of tax reliefs depends on your individual circumstances. Tax laws can change. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice. The purpose of this blog is to provide generic and technical guidance and should not be interpreted as a personal recommendation.

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