Salary sacrifice or employee contribution?

confusedOne issue that frequently causes confusion is the difference between the employee salary sacrificing in order to receive a fringe benefit and making an employee contribution towards the value of that fringe benefit.

Salary sacrificing for a fringe benefit
To be an effective salary sacrifice arrangement (SSA), the agreement must be entered into before the employee becomes entitled to the income (e.g. before the period in which they start to perform the services that will result in the payment of salary, etc). 

Where an employee has salary sacrificed on a pre-tax basis towards the fringe benefit provided – laptop, car, etc they have agreed to give up a portion of their gross salary on a pre-tax basis and receive the relevant fringe benefit instead.

As a starting point, the taxable value of the fringe benefit is the full value of the expense paid by the employer.

The employer recognises a lower cost of salary and wages provided to the employee as their 'cost saving', which results in lower PAYG withholding and superannuation contribution obligations, but they still recognise the full value of the fringe benefit as part of their taxable fringe benefit which is subject to FBT.

The employee recognises that they have a reduced amount of salary and wages, and a non-cash benefit in the form of the fringe benefit. 

What is an employee contribution?
An employee contribution is made from post-tax income and will often form part of arrangements relating to car fringe benefits. The employee recognises the gross salary and wages as income in their tax return. However, the payment of an after-tax employee contribution would generally have the effect of reducing the taxable value of the fringe benefit that was provided to them by the employer.

The employer would still be subject to the 'standard' PAYG withholding and superannuation contribution obligations in relation to the gross salary and wages amount.

The ATO is looking for discrepancies with contributions paid by an employee to ensure that these have been treated consistently for income tax and GST purposes as well as on the FBT return. This is really an issue for the employer and a discrepancy may mean that there is an FBT exposure or that the employer has paid less GST or income tax than what they should have.

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