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It's Christmas Time Mr Taxman!

Newsletter issue - December 2010.

It's that time of year when staff parties abound, and you may be thinking of handing out small seasonal gifts to employees, customers or suppliers. Before you get too generous, make sure you know the tax implications.

Entertaining your staff is tax allowable as long as the entertaining is not part of an event aimed primarily at your customers. The cost of entertaining customers or potential customers or suppliers is not tax allowable for income tax or corporation tax. Your accounting records need to distinguish between the cost of hospitality such as the provision of food or drink, and significant gifts to customers, from your other marketing expenditure. The amount classified as non-allowable entertaining is added back to your profits to calculate the total tax due.

You can reclaim the VAT on the cost of entertaining your staff, but a proportion of the costs must be disallowed for VAT purposes where non-staff, such as family members, customers or suppliers also attend the event. However, where customers from overseas are present the VAT can be reclaimed on their portion of the costs. This is because the Tax Office recently removed the block on reclaiming VAT on entertaining overseas customers. Note the VAT block is only lifted for overseas customers, not suppliers, or UK customers, or other third-parties.

An event laid on free or below cost for employees would normally be a taxable benefit for those staff who attend, but it is tax free if it is designated as an 'annual event'. The other requirements are that the event is open to all staff and the cost does not exceed £150 per head, including VAT. If the cost exceeds this threshold, your employees will be taxed on the total cost of the event as a benefit in kind. You can pay this tax and NI on behalf of your employees using a payroll settlement agreement (PSA), which you need to agree with the Tax Office. So to avoid this hassle, keep the cost of the event, including all free transport and accommodation, below £150.01 per head.

Small seasonal gifts to staff, such as a bottle of plonk or a turkey, can be treated as 'trivial benefits'. These trivial benefits can be excluded from the report of benefits and expenses (form P11D) provided to staff, if you agree a dispensation for these gifts with the Tax Office. Don't push it with the Tax Inspector by trying to pass off expensive hampers or cases of champagne as trivial benefits.

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