The Office for Tax Simplification (OTS) has just published its final review of employee benefits. The OTS gives independent advice to Government on simplifying the UK tax system and included in this latest review are its recommendations on the issue of employee accommodation and under what circumstances it should be exempt from a tax charge.
Essentially the OTS considers that employer-provided accommodation is in principle a benefit and the simplest route would be to tax the value of the benefit provided but acknowledges that such a broad approach would ignore the necessity of certain staff living in specified, employer-provided accommodation to do their jobs.
The OTS says the current rules on employer-provided accommodation are arbitrary and inconsistent and should be restricted to instances where the employee is required to live in the accommodation to enable them to protect buildings, people or assets; or because they have to work outside normal working hours; or because they need to live in employer-provided accommodation as a result of regulatory requirements.
Catherine Desmond, Partner in the Landed Estates and Rural Business Group of UK top 20 Chartered Accountant Saffery Champness says:
The OTS is recommending a move away from exemption being available for particular classes of employees (currently qualifying because it is customary for them to have accommodation) to looking at whether the accommodation is actually required in each instance in order to get the job done.
Whilst there is a great deal to recommend a simpler, common-sense approach, achieving this in a fair manner would be dependent upon the drafting and implementation. In the short term the OTS has recommended a change to HMRC Guidance that makes it clear that consideration will be given to substantive duties and not just job titles when applying the existing tests.
Since many agricultural workers, shoot and other estate-based workers are provided with accommodation it is vitally important that employers do look carefully at the roles of individuals when claiming exemption rather than simply relying upon their job title. It will also be important for us, as advisers, to keep abreast of any changes to both guidance and legislation in this area.