What are ‘trivial benefits’ and how are they treated for tax purposes?

trivial benefits expenses claim

Since the introduction of new rules in April 2016, employers can now provide so-called ‘trivial benefits’ to employees without having to declare these to HMRC. But what exactly are trivial benefits and is there a limit to how much they can cost before being considered a taxable benefit?

Trivial benefits aren’t actually anything new as employers have always been able to provide this type of benefit to staff in the shape of tea, coffee, and bottled water in the workplace and occasional gifts, such as a box of chocolates or flowers on their birthday, or a turkey to take home at Christmas.

As the name suggests, the benefit is something small and is not to be confused with ‘benefits in kind’ which are more substantive and can include a company car, gym membership, etc., which are taxable benefits. That said, the rule change on trivial benefits means directors can now afford to be a bit more generous towards staff as well as to themselves, but as always with HMRC, there are rules that need to be followed to avoid being hit for tax or national insurance.

The new rules

The rules on trivial benefits are as follows:

• The value of the benefit should not be more than £50
• You can’t provide the benefit as a cash payment, although gift vouchers for that amount are allowed as long as they are not exchangeable for cash
• The benefit isn’t included in the terms of the employee’s contract
• The benefit is not in lieu of payment or a reward for work done (see below) or part of a salary sacrifice agreed with the employee
• Trivial benefits for directors of a close company (see below) should not amount to more than £300 in any one tax year

It’s important to note that if the £50 limit on trivial benefits is exceeded – even by only a few pennies – then the full value of the benefit will be considered a taxable benefit. And in all instances, you can’t simply claim for trivial benefits as an annual allowance but must have receipts for the cost of each trivial benefit before you can claim income tax or corporation tax relief.

As stated above, you can’t simply provide a trivial benefit as a reward for work. This means you can’t give an employee a £50 bottle of malt whisky as payment for a job well done or the benefit will be taxable under the rewards for services rule. Instead, the whisky has to be a token of appreciation or a perk, along the same lines as treating staff to a meal.

The rules for company directors

For directors and/or office holders of a close company (a limited company run by five or fewer shareholders), HMRC has set an annual cap of £300 for trivial benefits.

As a director, you can also provide trivial benefits to a family member or members of your household and claim for these as part of your director’s allowance for the tax year. Please note that all the other conditions listed above also apply to directors.

Trivial benefits are in addition to the ‘annual event’ or staff entertaining allowance you can claim as a director, which is currently set at £150 per head and includes the cost of food and drink, accommodation, and transport.

Trivial in name only

As long as the cost of gift does not exceed £50 and you play by the rules, trivial benefits can be great for boosting morale in the workplace, won’t cost a fortune, and can be claimed as corporation tax relief. The amount may be relatively trivial, but in terms of showing your appreciation, in this case, a little can go a long way.

Visit Gov.UK for further information on trivial benefits.

Visit our main guide to claiming expenses via your limited company.