Utilising the 2019/20 dividend allowance

Utilising the 2019/20 dividend allowance

The dividend allowance is quite unusual in that it is available to everyone and everyone has the same allowance. For 2019/20 the allowance is set at £2,000. In common with many allowances, it is a case of use it or lose it.

As the end of the 2019/20 tax year draws closer, what can be done to ensure that the allowance is not wasted?

Nature of the allowance

Although termed the ‘dividend allowance’ its nature is really that of a nil rate band. Dividends which are sheltered by the allowance form part of band earnings, but the dividends that fall within that band are taxed at a zero rate.

Example

Harriet is a basic rate taxpayer. After taking account of her salary, she has £10,000 of her basic rate band remaining. She receives dividend income of £3,000.

The first £2,000 of her dividend income is covered by her dividend allowance and is tax-free. The remaining £1,000 is taxed at the dividend ordinary rate of 7.5%.

Harriet must therefore pay tax of £75 on her dividends.

The dividend income uses up £3,000 of her remaining basic rate band.

Family companies

In a family company scenario, it is possible to organise the shareholdings so as to spread the dividend income around the family to reduce the combined tax bill and to take advantage of each member’s dividend allowance. This is particularly useful where the family member has no other shares and the allowance would otherwise be lost.

As dividends must be declared in proportion to share holdings, the use of an alphabet share structure, whereby each person has their own class of share (e.g. A ordinary shares, B ordinary shares, etc.) preserves the flexibility to tailor dividend payments to shareholder’s circumstances.

Example

Andrew is the sole director of A Ltd. In 2019/20 the company has profits of £70,000 which Andrew wishes to withdraw as dividends. His wife Anne and his children Beth, Chris, Dawn and Emma all work outside the business. None has any other income from shares.

Andrew also pays himself a salary of £8,628.

To make use of each family member’s dividend allowance, an alphabet share structure is used, under which A ordinary shares are allocated to Anne, B ordinary shares are allocated to Beth, C ordinary shares are allocated to Chris, and so on.

Each family member receives a dividend of £2,000. As this is sheltered by their dividend allowances, this enables £10,000 of dividends to be paid tax-free. Had Andrew received the dividends paid to family members, they would have been taxed at the dividend higher rate of 32.5%.

Making use of the family’s dividend allowances reduces the overall tax bill by £3,250.

Other opportunities

Where one spouse or civil partner has substantial shareholdings and their partner does not hold any shares (with the result that their dividend allowance is unused) the shareholding partner could consider transferring shares to their spouse/civil partner (taking advantage of the ability to transfer the shares for capital gains tax purposes on a no gain/no loss basis). This will shift dividend income from one spouse/civil partner to the other and enable dividends that would otherwise be taxed to be received tax-free.

Taxpayers with unused dividend allowances could also discuss their investment strategy with their financial adviser with a view to exploring whether it would be beneficial to hold shares – but remember not to let the tax tail wag the dog.

Party time for small companies

Party time for small companies

Although there is no specific allowance for a Christmas party, or any other employer-provided social function, HMRC do allow limited tax relief against the cost of holding an ‘annual event’ for employees, providing certain conditions are met.

Broadly, the cost of staff events is tax deductible for the business. Specifically, the legislation includes a let-out clause, which means that entertaining staff is not treated for tax in the same way as customer entertaining. The expenses will be shown separately in the business accounts – usually as ‘staff welfare’ costs or similar.

There is no monetary limit on the amount that an employer can spend on an annual function. If a staff party costs more than £150 per head (see below regarding this threshold), the cost will still be an allowable deduction, but the employees will have a liability to pay tax and National Insurance Contributions (NICs) arising on the benefit-in-kind.

The employer may agree to settle any tax charge arising on behalf of the employees. This may be done using a HMRC PAYE Settlement Agreement (PSA), which means that the benefits do not need to be taxed under PAYE, or included on the employees’ forms P11D. The employer’s tax liability under the PSA must be paid to HMRC by 19 October following the end of the tax year to which the payment relates.

The full cost of staff parties and/or events will be disallowed for tax if it is found that the entertainment of staff is in fact incidental to that of entertaining customers.

VAT-registered businesses can claim back input VAT on the costs, but this may be restricted where this includes entertaining customers.

The employee’s position

A staff event will qualify as a tax-free benefit if the following conditions are satisfied:

  • the total cost must not exceed £150 per head, per year
  • the event must be primarily for entertaining staff
  • the event must be open to employees generally, or to those at a particular location, if the employer has numerous branches or departments

The ‘cost per head’ of an event is the total cost (including VAT) of providing:

  1. a) the event, and
  2. b) any transport or accommodation incidentally provided for persons attending (whether or not they are the employer’s employees),

divided by the number of those persons.

Provided the £150 limit is not exceeded, any number of parties or events may be held during the tax year, for example, there could be three parties held at various times, each costing £50 per head.

The £150 is a limit, not an allowance – if the limit is exceeded by just £1, the whole amount must be reported to HMRC.

The £150 exemption is mirrored for Class 1 NIC purposes, (so that if the limit is not exceeded, no liability arises for the employees), but Class 1B NICs at the current rate of 13.8%, will be payable by the employer on benefits-in-kind which are subject to a PSA.

If there are two parties, for example, where the combined cost of each exceeds £150, the £150 limit is offset against the most expensive one, leaving the other one as a fully taxable benefit.

Example

Generous Ltd pays for a Christmas party for its employees, which costs £150 per head and a further social event in the same tax year costing £45 per head. The Christmas party will be covered by the exemption, but employees will be taxed on subsequent social event costs as a benefit-in-kind.