Salary sacrifice for pension contributions – are you using it?

30 April 2021

As we slowly move back to normality, employers may be evaluating employee benefit packages to shape these to new working arrangements and identify potential cost savings. For employers not already using it, implementing a salary sacrifice for employer pension contributions can still generate National Insurance Contributions savings for employers and employees.

What is salary sacrifice for pension contributions? 

This is an arrangement where an employee agrees to a reduction in their contractual gross earnings (by an amount equal to their employee pension contributions) and in exchange, the employer agrees to pay increased employer pension contributions instead. 

Where implemented correctly salary sacrifice for pensions results in the employer and the employee paying less Class 1 National Insurance Contributions (‘NIC’). This is because the employee gives up their right to receive salary (which would otherwise be liable to Class 1 NIC) and receives an employer contribution to a registered pension scheme instead (which is not liable to Class 1 NIC).

Haven’t HMRC stopped this?

No they haven’t. The Optional Remuneration Arrangement (‘OpRA’) legislation introduced on 6 April 2017 removed the tax and employer NIC advantages for many benefits provided under salary sacrifice arrangements. 

However, employer pension contributions to registered pension schemes were specifically excluded from the OpRA rules and using salary sacrifice for pension contributions continues to generate NIC savings for employees and employers when implemented correctly.

What are the advantages of salary sacrifice for pension? 

The main advantage is the ongoing annual employer and employee Class 1 NIC savings.

An employer has 100 monthly paid employees who each have an annual gross salary of £30,000. 

Under the employer’s registered workplace pension scheme, pension contributions are made on annual salary between £6,240 and £50,270 (or the employee’s annual gross salary if lower). 

The employer contributes 3 per cent and the employee contributes 5 per cent (including the tax relief added by the government), satisfying the total contributions of per cent currently required under auto-enrolment rules. 

The employer does not operate the workplace pension scheme in conjunction with salary sacrifice at present. During the 2021/22 tax year each employee will pay monthly employee’s Class 1 NIC of £204.36 on their monthly salary. The employer pays total monthly employer’s Class 1 NIC of £24,329.40 on all the employees’ salaries each month too.   

If the employer operated the workplace pension scheme in conjunction with salary sacrifice the employer would pay employer pension contributions of 8 per cent (maintaining the current level of contributions) and the employees would stop making employee contributions. In exchange for the additional employer pension contributions, the employees would accept a reduction of £99 per month to their contractual gross pay.  During the 2021/22 tax year each employee would then pay monthly employee’s Class 1 NIC of £192.48 on their reduced monthly salary, and the employer would pay total employer’s Class 1 NIC of £22,963.20 on all the employees’ salaries each month. 

On an annual basis, by utilising salary sacrifice in respect of the workplace pension scheme, the employer would save employer’s Class 1 NIC of £16,394,40, and each employee would save employee’s Class 1 NIC of £142.56.  

Although in the example above each employee’s Class 1 NIC savings are modest, the employer could share all or part of the Class 1 employer NIC with the employee by further increasing the company’s employer pension contributions, potentially helping them build a bigger pension fund for their retirement.

Employers who have an annual pay bill of £3m or more and who are subject to the Apprenticeship Levy should note that the Apprenticeship Levy only applies to the total amount of earnings on which an employer is liable to pay Class 1 employer’s NIC. As salary sacrifice will reduce earnings subject to Class 1 employer’s NIC it can also reduce the Apprenticeship Levy paid too. 

Are there any other considerations? 

Yes, there are. 

The employees’ contractual entitlement to earnings must be given up before it is treated as received for income tax and NIC purposes. This means that their contracts of employment must be properly varied before their first reduced salary payment under the new arrangement is made.

The reality must be that the employee is entitled to a lower salary and a non-cash benefit (being the increased employer pension contribution) under the arrangement, and this must be clearly reflected in the supporting documentation.

The salary sacrifice must not reduce employees’ earnings below National Minimum/Living Wage rates. For some employees this will need to be carefully monitored.

Employees should consider the wider effect a reduction in their salary can have on, for example, their entitlement to the State Pension, and other contributions-based state benefits, tax credits, and statutory maternity pay. It is best practice for employers to bring this to employees’ attention as part of the implementation process

How can RSM help?

Our specialists can provide advice on such arrangements and assist you with all aspects of implementation. We can help you ensure that arrangements are implemented efficiently and correctly, assist with the preparation of supporting documentation and employee communications, and seek HMRC confirmation that the salary sacrifice is effective. Finally through our legal team we can also advise on the important employment law implications of such arrangements.

If you have any questions about the above, or would like to discuss further, please contact Lee Knight or Susan Ball