Are Christmas parties tax free?

Last year, the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdown took Christmas parties (other than virtual ones) off the agenda. This year, to make up for lost time many employers have a date in the diary already. In this article we look into how you can celebrate the festive season without triggering a tax liability in the process. Can Christmas parties be tax free?

Limited tax exemption for annual parties and functions

There is a limited tax exemption for annual parties and functions, which can be used to ensure that no benefit in kind tax charge arises in respect of the provision of the Christmas party. However, as with all exemptions, there are conditions to be met. The exemption applies equally to virtual parties as to ‘real life’ events.

Does the Christmas party have to be an annual event?

The exemption only applies to annual functions. If you hold a Christmas party every year (Covid-19 restrictions aside), the exemption will be available. If, however, you decide to hold a one-off event, the resulting benefit will be taxable.

What is the £150 limitation?

The exemption only applies if the cost of the function is not more than £150 per head. This is the total cost of the function (including VAT) divided by the number of people attending (guests as well as employees). If the cost per head is more than £150, the full amount is taxable, not just the excess over £150. If the employee brings a guest, the taxable benefit is the cost of the employee’s attendance at the event, and also that of their guest.

If you hold more than one annual function each year, you can use the £150 per head limit to achieve the best outcome. Remember that it can only be used to shelter ‘whole’ functions – it is not a tax-free allowance. In working out the best possible use of the exemption, you will need to consider the impact that guests will have on the amount that would be taxable in the absence of the exemption. The exemption is better used to cover an event costing £30 per head where the employee can bring a guest than one costing £40 per head which is for employees only. If the exemption is not available, the taxable amount for the former for attendance by both the employee and their guest is £60 (2 x £30), whereas for the latter, it is only £40.

Taxable benefit? Use a PSA

If you are not able to benefit from the exemption for your Christmas party, but want to preserve employee goodwill, you may wish to meet the associated tax liability by including the benefit within a PAYE Settlement Agreement.  

If you have any questions and queries relating to whether Christmas parties can be tax free, we will be happy to discuss this with you. Call 0800 112 0880 or email [email protected] to discuss your queries.

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