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Seasonal gifts to employees

Christmas is a time of giving, and you may wish to give your employees a small token of your appreciation for their work during the year. To prevent the gift being accompanied by an unwanted tax liability, you can take advantage of the trivial benefits exemption to keep the gift tax-free.

Scope of the exemption

Where you provide an employee with a low-cost benefit, the employee is not taxed on the provision of that benefit as long as the following conditions are met:

  • the benefit is not cash or a cash voucher;
  • the cost of the benefit is not more than £50;
  • the benefit is not made available to the employee under a salary sacrifice arrangement or under a contractual obligation; and
  • the benefit is not provided in recognition of particular services being performed, or in anticipation of them being performed.

Benefits that meet these conditions are known as trivial benefits.

Where the conditions are met, if the recipient is a director of a close company, the total value of tax-free trivial benefits that they can enjoy in the tax year is capped at £300. Otherwise, there is no limit on the number of trivial benefits which can be given to an employee tax-free each year.

Application of the exemption to Christmas gifts

The trivial benefits exemption can be used to ensure that gifts typically given to employees at Christmas, such as chocolates, wine, a turkey or a hamper, can be given tax-free. The key is to keep the cost below £50.

It will normally be straightforward to work out the cost of an item, but where it is difficult to determine the individual cost, the average cost can be used instead.

Lavish gifts

The trivial benefits exemption only applies if you give modest gifts costing £50 or less; lavish gifts will fall outside the exemption. The £50 limit is not a tax-free allowance, and if the cost of the gift is more than £50, the full amount will be taxable, not just the excess over £50. For example, if you give your employees a Christmas hamper costing £200, the taxable amount is £200, not £150 (the excess over £50).

If you do wish to give your employees an expensive Christmas gift, you may wish to pay the associated tax on their behalf by including it within a PAYE Settlement Agreement.

The gift card trap

To enable employees to choose their own gift, you may prefer to give a gift card or access to an app which lets them choose a treat. However, it is necessary to tread carefully here. If an employee uses an app or is given a gift card which may be topped up, the cost of the benefit is the total cost in the tax year, not the cost each time the app or gift card is used. This may mean that while each individual item purchased from the app or gift card costs less than £50, if the annual cost is more than £50, the benefit will not be a trivial benefit, and the exemption will not be available.

Speak to us

To check whether your Christmas gifts fall within the scope of the exemption, please get in touch.