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Virtual Christmas parties and tax free gifts

Virtual Christmas parties and tax-free gifts

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that the traditional Christmas party could not happen in 2020. If, instead, you held a virtual event, you will be pleased to know that this too can benefit from the tax exemption for annual parties and functions. There is also good news if you opted to give your staff a seasonal gift, as this may fall within the scope of the trivial benefits exemption.

Virtual Christmas parties

The tax exemption for annual parties and functions means that your staff can enjoy a Christmas party without having to worry about an associated benefit-in-kind tax charge as long as the cost per head (including VAT) is £150 or less and the event is open to all staff (or all staff at a particular location).

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that large in-person events are off the menu this year. If, like many other organisations, you chose not to forgo the Christmas party entirely and held an online event instead, your virtual event will fall within the scope of the exemption for annual parties and functions, as long as the associated conditions have been met. HMRC have confirmed that where the event is provided using IT, the exemption will cover the costs of the event, including the provision of equipment, entertainment and refreshments, as long as they are provided principally for the enjoyment or consumption by employees during the event.

If a virtual event is not for you, the exemption will also apply if you delay the Christmas party and hold a later event instead, as long as it is held before the end of the current tax year.

Where the conditions for exemption have been met, you do not need to report the virtual event to HMRC on your employees’ P11Ds, or include it within a PAYE Settlement Agreement.

Seasonal gifts

If, as a gesture of goodwill, you gave your employees a Christmas gift, as long as the cost of providing that gift is not more than £50, it will fall within the scope of the trivial benefits exemption. This is good news; there is no tax to pay and you do not need to report the gift to HMRC.

The choice of gift is up to you, and traditional seasonal gifts, such as a turkey or a hamper, can be given within the scope of the exemption, as long as they do not cost you more than £50 to provide. If you provide gifts to a number of employees and it is impracticable to work out the individual cost, the average cost can be used instead.

There are, however, some points to watch. The exemption does not apply to gifts of cash or cash vouchers, or to those given as a reward for the provision of services or where the employee is contractually entitled to the gift. Care must also be taken when giving gift cards if these can be topped up; in this case, HMRC regard the cost to be the total cost in the tax year, rather than the cost of each individual top-up. Similar considerations apply to the use of apps to buy goods and services and to season tickets.

Get in touch

Talk to us to find out whether your Christmas events and gifts for employees are exempt from tax.