Salary Sacrifice Schemes – What You Need to Know
April 1, 2017
Providing a range of employee benefits helps differentiate your business from your competitors. Deliver these benefits via salary sacrifice and you’ll gain an additional advantage by making tax savings. But salary sacrifice schemes are not straight forward, and recent changes to legislation mean you’ll need to make amends to the way you operate existing schemes. Whether you’ve got salary sacrifice arrangements in place, or you’re thinking of setting them up, this article outlines how salary sacrifice works, the pros and cons of this approach and details the changes you need to know about.
What is Salary Sacrifice and How Does It Work?
Salary sacrifice is a legal way for employers to provide benefits to employees so that both parties make tax savings. By deducting the cost for benefits from gross pay, both employer and employee benefit by paying tax on the remaining, lower salary.
Depending on how a salary sacrifice scheme is implemented, simply or SMART, either the employee saves on tax and NICs (National Insurance Contributions) or they gain a higher value of benefit than their contribution. With either approach, employers save their NICs on the proportion of the salary being sacrificed.
The table below shows the savings employees on differing tax rates would make if they exchanged £100 of their salary for certain benefits.
Is Everyone a Winner?
There are many positive reasons to provide benefits in this way.
• The obvious benefit of tax savings
Despite changes to tax legislation in this area (more on this in a moment), there are still tax savings to be made for both employers and employees on some benefits. These savings can make a big difference in terms of helping lower paid employees gain access to benefits they could not otherwise afford.
• Enhancing your total reward package
The more cost-effective benefit provision is, the more benefits you can afford to offer and the more attractive and competitive your reward offering becomes.
As a business owner, you can decide what to do with any employer NIC savings; put them back into the business or share them with employees. Some organisations use some or all of their employer NIC savings to make additional pension contributions or fund an additional low-cost benefit, such as a health cash plan. This enhances their employer proposition and makes existing employees even happier.
• Keeping your high earners happy
If your business has any high earners, their £11,000 personal tax allowance reduces by £1 for every £2 earned over £100,000. Using salary sacrifice reduces their gross earnings; bring their earnings below £100,000, and their personal allowance will be preserved boosting their tax- free income.
The Drawbacks to Salary Sacrifice
While the tax savings and ability to offer a range of attractive benefits is tempting, salary sacrifice has it downsides.
• It’s not straight forward
Operating a salary sacrifice scheme requires a specialist tax knowledge to set the schemes up correctly and to provide the right employee guidance. Administration of benefits, including real-time tax reporting, also needs to be on point to remain on the right side of the law. One way around these issues is to work with a HR consultant to set up a scheme underpinned by the effective processes.
• Business risk
Some salary sacrifice schemes entail a degree of financial risk for the business (such as Cycle to Work), where the employer pays for the cost of the benefit up front and the employee makes repayments via payroll. If record-keeping falls down, or a leaver’s final pay cheque does not cover the outstanding cost, you’ll be liable for the expense.
• Not everyone can participate
Where a salary sacrifice arrangement would reduce an employee’s gross salary below the national living wage they will not be able to participate in the scheme which can be divisive. Inadvertently take an individual’s pay below the living wage and you’ll need to pay the staff the shortfall in wages and you may incur up to £20,000 in HMRC penalties per employee.
• It’s not always beneficial for employees to reduce their gross earnings
Lower paid employees may find their ability to claim certain means-tested benefits, such as jobseekers allowance or statutory maternity pay, is impacted. That’s because their NICs will have reduced and they may not meet the earnings threshold to qualify for these benefits should they need them in future. Other financial arrangements such as applying for a mortgage can also be affected by reducing gross earnings via salary sacrifice.
Which Benefits Can You Provide via Salary Sacrifice?
Recent legal changes surrounding salary sacrifice mean that not all benefits will continue to attract the same levels of tax savings. From April 2017 onwards, salary sacrifice will continue to operate as normal (attracting employer and employee NIC savings and employee tax savings) for the following benefits:
• pension savings (and related advice)
• childcare provision (including employer-provided childcare and childcare vouchers)
• cycle-to-work schemes
• ultra-low emission cars (CO2 emissions under 75g/km)
However, the benefits listed below can no longer be offered in this way and will only attract NIC savings for the employee:
• company cars (CO2 emissions of 75g/km and above)
• work-related training
• car parking near your workplace
• health screening checks
• mobile phones and computers
• gym memberships
• school fees
This means, if you offer any of the benefits above and retain the employer NIC proportion of your saving, this will now be a cost to the business.
Transitioning to the New Arrangements
The good news is that schemes in place before April 2017 are protected until April 2018. Arrangements for benefits in the second group above will be protected for three years until April 2021. But beware: if you renegotiate your contract before these dates, you’ll need to adopt the new tax legislation from the effective date of your new contract.
If you need specialist HR support to review your position and manage any changes, get in touch by calling us on 0330 555 1139 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.