Pearson May Financial Update: Staff Christmas parties and gifts – the taxman can be surprisingly generous

November 30, 2017

At this time of year you may be looking forward to the annual staff Christmas party, but have you considered the tax and National Insurance implications of laying this on for your team? writes Pearson May partner Nick Oliver FCA FIoD.


After all, there’s nothing more festive than sitting down to examine the tax legislation before you book! Needless to say, the taxman may not be full of the Christmas spirit but there are fairly generous exemptions available when it comes to events such as Christmas parties and gifts to staff, so it is worth being aware of these. 


Income Tax and National Insurance


Where Christmas parties are concerned, there is an exemption for employees from both Income Tax and National Insurance up to a cost of £150 per head. This applies to an annual party or similar annual event provided for the employees, e.g. a Christmas party or summer barbecue.  There can be more than one event during the year and the exemption can still apply, as long as the combined cost of the events is no more than £150 per head. The events also need to be open to all employees, either within the firm as a whole or at a particular location or office of the firm. 


It is worth clarifying that the £150 per head limit is not an allowance to be set against the cost if the cost exceeds £150, but rather if the cost per head exceeds that sum then the full cost is usually taxable on the individual as a benefit in kind and liable to Class 1A National Insurance.


Furthermore, the £150 limit is per head per attendee so if partners of staff members attend then the total cost of the event should be divided by the total number of attendees when considering the £150 limit.


VAT position


When considering the total cost of such events for the purposes of Income Tax and National Insurance purposes above, it is the VAT inclusive cost of the party or event that must be considered. However, there are further VAT complications which may need to be addressed when reclaiming VAT on the cost of a staff party.


As a general rule, any VAT incurred on the cost of entertaining non-staff, e.g. clients/customers, suppliers and other business contacts, is not reclaimable. Therefore, it is only the element of the cost of the staff party which directly relates to employees, i.e. excluding spouses/partners etc, on which VAT can be reclaimed. Most businesses will therefore need to keep a list of attendees to the party to identify those who are staff members and those who are not in determining what proportion of the VAT can be reclaimed.


Christmas gifts


The same rules as mentioned above do not apply to any gifts provided to staff members, but there is a new exemption which HMRC have introduced regarding so called ‘trivial benefits’. These trivial benefits can be provided to staff without the employee being taxable on the value of the gift or the employer having a duty to report. 


A benefit is treated as trivial if it meets all of the following conditions:

  • the cost of providing the benefit must not exceed £50;
  • the benefit must not be cash or a ‘cash voucher’, but high street vouchers should be fine;
  • the employee must not be entitled to the benefit contractually (including as a result of salary sacrifice);
  • the benefit must not be in recognition of services performed by the employee as part of their employment.

It is important to note that if the cost of the benefit exceeds £50, even by a minute amount, the whole sum becomes chargeable to tax, not just the excess. The exemption should however mean that the ‘average’ turkey, bottle of wine, chocolates or vouchers can be provided to staff without there being any tax implications of doing so.


Somewhat generously, the exemption applies to each individual benefit in isolation and there is no limit on the number of trivial benefits an employee may receive in the tax year, unless he or she is a director of a close company (the typical small company controlled by five or fewer individuals). In the case of such directors there is an aggregate annual cap of £300.


This new exemption is helpful in reducing one aspect of ‘red tape’ for employers, but those who try to go too far in exploiting it are likely to be challenged on the basis that the frequency and/or regularity makes the benefits taxable as pay. You may want to bear this in mind before you get too carried away with the festive period and lavish a number of gifts on your employees between now and Christmas!


The above is for general guidance only and no action should be taken without obtaining specific advice.  May we take this opportunity to wish you all an enjoyable festive season.









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