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Expenses and benefits provided to employees during the COVID-19 pandemic

HMRC have recently published guidance for employers on how to treat certain expenses and benefits which may be provided to employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance is available on the website.

They have also relaxed the rules for a limited period where an employer reimburses an employee for the cost of equipment purchased to enable them to work from home.

Mileage costs

Particular issues can arise where an employer supports employees who are undertaking volunteer work during the pandemic, such as delivering prescriptions or PPE.

Volunteers driving a company car

If the employee has a company car and you refund the fuel costs where the car is used for volunteer duties using the advisory fuel rates, this will be a taxable benefit as the reimbursed mileage is not business mileage. If you wish to meet the tax and National Insurance on behalf of your employees, you can include it within a PAYE Settlement Agreement. If not, the reimbursement is taxable and liable to National Insurance.

If, as an employee, you pay for the petrol when undertaking volunteer duties using you company car, you are not able to claim tax relief as the expense is not incurred wholly, exclusively and necessary in the performance of your job.

Volunteers driving their own car

Where an employee undertakes volunteer driving using their own car and, as measure of support, you reimburse the cost using the approved mileage allowance rate, again, this will be taxable and liable to National Insurance. However, you can instead settle the associated liability on behalf of your employees by including it within a PAYE Settlement Agreement.

If the employee pays the mileage costs associated with volunteer driving, they cannot claim mileage allowance relief as the journeys are not business journeys.

Company car availability

During the lockdown many employees have been furloughed or are working from home. As a result, if they have a company car, they may be using it only rarely or not at all.

A taxable benefit arises in respect of the provision of a company car when that car is ‘available’ for private use – it does not matter whether the car is actually used or not, it is the ‘availability’ that triggers the tax charge. HMRC have confirmed that during the lockdown, a company car should still be treated as being ‘available for private use’, even if the employee has been:

  • instructed not to use the car;
  • asked to keep a record of the mileage to prove the car has not been used (i.e. photographs of the mileage at the start and end of the period); and
  • unable to return the car or arrange for its collection.

However, where it was not possible for the car to be handed back or collected as a result of the restrictions on movement, where the contract has been terminated, HMRC will accept that the car ceased to be available from the date that the keys (including tabs or fobs) are returned to the employer or relevant third party. If the contract has not been terminated, the car will be treated as unavailable after a period of 30 consecutive date from the date on which the keys have been returned. HMRC accept that where the employee no longer has access to the keys, they cannot drive the car, even if the car remains at their home.

The company car tax rules are strict and it important to appreciate the difference between a car being available for use and a car actually being used by the employee when it comes to calculating the taxable benefit.

Homeworking relaxations

An employee may have purchased office equipment to enable them to work at home. HMRC have, temporarily, relaxed the rules where the employer reimburses the cost. Under the normal rules, where an employee purchases a capital item, such as computer, to enable them to work from home, any reimbursement by the employer is taxable. Likewise, the employee is unable to claim tax relief.

However, where an employee has purchased equipment to work at home because of Coronavirus, if the employer reimburses the costs on or after 16 March 2020 and before the end of the 2020/21 tax year, the reimbursement will be tax-free. If the employee purchases equipment in this period and the cost is not met by the employer, the employee can claim a tax deduction, either on form P87 or via their self-assessment return. They should retain evidence of the expenditure

HMRC have also confirmed that employees can claim tax relief for additional household expenses of up to £6 per week (£26 per month) without the need for supporting evidence.

Other benefits

HMRC’s guidance also covers other benefits that may be provided to employees during the pandemic. We can help you ensure that these are provided in a tax-efficient manner.