7 min read
Pensions for Employers

Government benefits and salary sacrifice: what do I need to know?

Megan Worthing-davies
23/02/2022

In salary sacrifice, a person exchanges their pay in return for their employer making an increased pension contribution. Salary sacrifice therefore affects how much a person receives in pay from their employer and can have an impact on any pay-related benefits.

In this article we will explain in detail how salary sacrifice can affect statutory benefits (those provided by or mandated by the government):  

  • Earnings related benefits
  • Statutory sick pay
  • Contribution based benefits
  • Maternity Allowance (up to 39 weeks of pay)
  • Shared Parental Pay (up to 37 weeks of pay)
  • Maternity Pay/Paternity Pay (up to 39 weeks of pay)
  • Adoption Pay (up to 39 weeks of pay)
  • Parental Bereavement Pay (up to 2 weeks of pay)
  • Redundancy Pay (up to 20 weeks of pay)

Maternity allowance

Critical point

Some or all of the benefit due is based on the following calculation: an employee will either get £151.97 or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) (2021/2022 Gov.uk).

Who this would affect

Anyone earning between £6,240 and £8,691 would have their pay calculated on their average earnings rather than £151.97 (90% of £8,690 = £7,821 = £150pw). As salary sacrifice would reduce the average earnings calculation made in the qualifying weeks, those who participated in salary sacrifice who earned under £8,691 would get 90% of their post sacrificed pay.

Example

A person earning £8,000 participates in salary sacrifice and sacrifices 5% of their full salary (£400), taking their pay to £7,600. This person would get 90% of £7,600 for 39 weeks of maternity allowance or parental pay rather than 90% of £8,000, a loss of £270.

Shared Parental/Maternity Pay/Paternity Pay/Parental Bereavement Pay/Adoption Pay

Critical point

The amount paid for upto 6 weeks is 90% of salary. For the remaining weeks, if applicable, an employee will either get £151.97 or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) (2021/2022 Gov.uk).

Who this would affect

Those who are in the salary sacrifice scheme during the qualifying weeks would receive statutory pay based on the post-sacrifice level of their salary, which would be lower than if they were not in the salary sacrifice scheme.

Example

A person earning £45,000 participates in salary sacrifice and sacrifices 5% of their full salary (£2,250), taking their pay to £43,062.This person would get 90% of £42,750 for 6 weeks rather than 90% of £45,000, a loss of £234. 

There are pros and cons of remaining in salary sacrifice when it comes to parental related benefits. For a detailed examination of parental pay and salary sacrifice read this article.

Redundancy Pay

Critical point: the amount a person receives is a ratio, dependent on their age and on their average weekly pay in the 12 weeks before the day they receive notice of redundancy (2021-2022 Gov.uk). Redundancy pay is capped at £544 (£566 in Northern Ireland) per week.

Who this would affect

Anyone on a salary of £28,288 or less (pre-sacrifice) who was made redundant and had participated in the salary sacrifice scheme in the 12 weeks before the day they receive the redundancy notice.

Example

A person earns £25,000 per year, or £481 per week. They participate in salary sacrifice and sacrifice 5% of their full salary (£1,250). This takes their pay to £23,750 or £457 per week. Because this person is over 62 years old, they would be entitled to redundancy pay at a ratio of 1.5 weeks’ pay for each year they were aged 41 or over. Assuming they had worked at the firm for 20 full years, they would receive £13,702 in redundancy pay (1.5 weeks’ pay x 20 weeks x £457) instead of £14,423.

Statutory Sick Pay

Critical point

Only those earning an average of at least £120 per week will be eligible for statutory Sick Pay (2021/2022 Gov.uk).

Who this would affect

Anyone whose earnings were reduced below £6,240 as a result of participating in salary sacrifice would be affected.

Example

A person earns £6,300 per year. They participate in salary sacrifice and sacrifice 5% of their full salary (£315). This takes their pay to £5,985, equivalent to an average weekly earning of £115​​. They would no longer be eligible for statutory sick pay.

Contribution based benefits 

  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Job Seeker’s Allowance
  • State Pension

Employment and Support Allowance/Job Seeker’s Allowance/State Pension

Critical point

A person must earn over £6,240 to earn a qualifying year for the state pension (2021/2022 Gov.uk), and must have earned over this amount for one to two years prior to claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance (2021/2022 Gov.uk).

Who would this affect

Anyone who participated in salary sacrifice and, in doing so, took their earnings under £6,240, would stop paying National Insurance. Such a person would cease to earn qualifying years for the State Pension, and may not be eligible to claim for Job Seeker’s Allowance.

Example

A person earns £6,300 per year. They participate in salary sacrifice and sacrifice 5% of their full salary (£315). This takes their pay to £5,985. They would cease making National Insurance contributions.

Considerations for employers 

NI thresholds

An employer will only pay National Insurance when employees earn at least £737 per week or £8,844 per annum (2021/2022 Gov.uk). Therefore, the employer will make no NI savings from employees earning under this amount taking part in salary sacrifice.

Similarly, an employee will only pay National Insurance when they earn at least £184 per week or  £9,564 per annum. Therefore, those earning under this amount will not make any NI gains from participating in salary sacrifice.

Auto-enrolment

Most people earning under £10,000 will be unaffected by salary sacrifice, because auto enrolment is triggered when an employee earns at least £10,00 per annum (2021/2022 Gov.uk).

There are some employers, however, who choose to put all employees into the pension, and of course employees earning under £10,000 could be affected by salary sacrifice if they opted into or joined the pension.

National Minimum Wage requirements

Employers must ensure that their employees never earn below the National Minimum Wage of £9.50 (2022/2023 Gov.uk). 

Compulsory opt out

There may be situations where employers run a ‘compulsory opt out scheme’ where employees are automatically put into a scheme unless they opt out. In this case, employees who did not opt out of salary sacrifice could be negatively affected if they fall into the categories mentioned above. Employers must make sure employees are educated about the impact of salary sacrifice and have the chance to opt out if needed.

Income tax relief 

If an employer offers a relief at source scheme, employees who earn under the personal tax-free allowance of £12,570 (2021/22 Gov.uk) get tax relief on contributions, even if they are not taxpayers. So. for every pound an employee puts into the pension, they get £0.20 or 20% of that given to them by the government. This is a better deal for an employee who is not a taxpayer than being in a salary sacrifice scheme. Salary sacrifice provides a different tax break that is only worth 13.25% to the employee.

Simple rules to make sure your salary sacrifice scheme is in the best interests of your staff

  1. If you operate a relief at source scheme, do not put anyone into salary sacrifice who earns less than the personal tax-free allowance
  2. If you operate a net-pay arrangement, do not put anyone earning less than £10,000 into salary sacrifice
  3. Alongside applying rules 1 or 2, if you have hourly waged employees, only put those who earn at least 6% more than the National Minimum Wage into salary sacrifice (assuming an employee pension contribution rate of 5%)
  4. Inform employees about the ability to opt out of salary sacrifice if they have a change of circumstances such as having a baby or if they intend to claim benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance which might be affected by salary sacrifice. (Note that parental benefits and maternity allowance are complex areas and we suggest you read this article on the topic).

This article is based on our current understanding of the benefits system. Please get advice from a benefit consultant if you are unsure of anything.

Image: Jason at Unsplash

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