Although much of Wednesday's Autumn Statement was devoted to addressing the issue of public borrowing/deficit and the economic forecast in the run-up to Brexit and beyond, there were a number of announcements that are likely to have a significant impact for employers. We explore them below.
Salary Sacrifice Arrangements
Perhaps the most far-reaching of these announcements was the Government's decision to end a number of salary sacrifice tax perks on a range of, what the Chancellor described as "unfair", lifestyle benefits such that employees will no longer be able to give up part of their salary in return for a non-cash benefit. By entering into a salary sacrifice scheme, an employee's salary is reduced so that the employee pays less tax and employee's national insurance and the employer saves the employers national insurance contributions.
Amongst the schemes that will be axed are gym memberships; health screening checks; mobile phones, computers and other tech; accommodation; and school fees. This news will come as a big disappointment to employees and employers alike, many of whom have invested significant time in crafting comprehensive and attractive flexible benefits packages.
Schemes that are in place before April 2017 will be protected until April 2018, with more expensive arrangements for company cars, accommodation and school fees being protected until April 2021. It will also be some comfort that a number of major schemes including pension contributions, childcare vouchers and cycle-to-work will not be affected and will continue to offer tax savings.
HR professionals and benefits specialists will now need to undertake a root and branch review of their benefits packages to ascertain how they will be impacted from April 2017 and beyond and what alternative arrangements (if any) will be offered to employees. They will also need to ensure early and full communication with employees who may no longer want to participate in certain schemes.
Abolition of Shares for Rights
The tax reliefs for employee shareholder shares, also known as "shares for rights" - as employees receive income tax and capital gains tax reliefs on shares in return for giving up certain statutory employment rights such as the right not to be unfairly dismissed - will be abolished for shares acquired on or after 1 December 2016. This means that in reality owing to the procedural steps required to be completed, employees offered such shares after 13.30 on 23 November 2016 will no longer qualify for the employee shareholder tax relief.
The abolition of shares for rights is likely to impact upon a number of companies – particularly those in the technology sector who had used such arrangements to reward genuine commercial growth whilst enjoying greater flexibility with regard to some employment protections and who do not satisfy the enterprise management incentive plan conditions. Companies in this position will need to take advice as they may find themselves without a Government-backed qualifying share plan and are likely to have to use "growth share" arrangements in the future as the next best alternative.
Increase of the Living Wage
On 1 April 2016 a new category of minimum wage was introduced, with workers aged 25 and over being entitled to a "National Living Wage" set at £7.20 per hour. With effect from 1 April 2017, the rate of the National Living Wage will increase to £7.50 per hour.