Christmas is traditionally a time of giving – including employers showing gratitude towards staff and clients/suppliers for their loyalty throughout the year. With the right approach, it is possible to enjoy some tax benefits out of your generosity, and also avoid Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT). But as always with tax, the landscape is layered with complexity. The following is a general summary of the tax treatment of Christmas giving.
Gifts to Staff
Non-entertainment gifts to staff (such as Christmas hampers, bottles of alcohol, gift vouchers, pen sets etc.), are tax deductible and you can claim GST credits, irrespective of cost. Note however that you can generally avoid paying FBT if you keep the gift under $300. If this threshold is exceeded, FBT will apply. Therefore, be conscious of this threshold when providing such gifts to staff this Christmas.
Entertainment gifts to staff (such as tickets to movies/theatre/amusement park/sporting events, holiday airline tickets etc.) which are under $300 will not attract FBT, but are not income tax deductible, and you can not claim GST credits. If over $300, FBT will apply, but a tax deduction and GST credits can be claimed. With FBT rate sitting at 47%, the tax deduction and GST credits available is unlikely to provide a better tax outcome than avoiding FBT by keeping the gift under $300.
Gifts to Clients/Customers/Contractors/Suppliers
No FBT is payable, irrespective of the type of gift and irrespective of cost. However, where a gift constitutes entertainment, no GST or tax deduction can be claimed. Thus, at least from a tax standpoint, it’s better to provide non-entertainment gifts to clients (Christmas hampers, bottles of alcohol, gift vouchers, pen sets) and, in doing so, enjoy a tax deduction and GST credits.
Instead of (or as well as) gifts, it’s quite common for employers to host a Christmas Party for their staff (often including spouses) at a restaurant.
Where this is the case, the total cost will generally be exempt from FBT provided the per-head cost (dinner and drinks) is kept to under $300 per person. This is known as the Minor Benefits Exemption. To enjoy this exemption the employer must use the Actual Method for valuing FBT meal entertainment. The Actual Method is the default method for valuing meal entertainment, and no formal ATO election is required to use this method. Under the Actual Method, an employer pays FBT (in the absence of an exemption) on all taxable meal entertainment provided to employees and their associates such as spouses. The downside of using the Minor Benefit Exemption is that the meal entertainment is not tax deductible, and nor can you claim a GST credit.
This Minor Benefit Exemption is not available if you elect to value your meal entertainment under the alternative 50/50 Method. Under this method, you pay FBT on only 50% of all taxable meal entertainment provided to employees, spouses AND clients, contractors, customers etc. irrespective of the cost. Likewise, you can only claim a 50% income tax deduction and 50% GST credits on such meal entertainment. However as stated earlier, with the FBT rate now at 47%, the 50% tax deduction and 50% GST credits available under the 50/50 Method is unlikely to provide a better after-tax result than the Actual Method where no FBT is payable.
The “take-home message” is that if like many employers the only social functions you host for employees during the year are a Christmas Party (and perhaps the Melbourne Cup), be conscious of keeping the per-head cost under $300. By doing so, you may be able to exempt the entire cost of the party from FBT.