The key conditions are that the party should be exclusively for business purposes, be open to all employees and cost less than £150 a head to qualify. You can offer more than one regular event to employees over the year, but the combined cost of each must be no more than £150 per person, otherwise the employer may have a National Insurance liability. One-off events do not qualify.
Events costing more than £150 per head across the year
However, if you hold several regular events in a year and the total combined cost of these is more than £150 per person, then you would need to report it as a benefit-in-kind and a tax and National Insurance charge may apply.
For example, if your company has a Christmas party at £100 per head and then a summer party which is £80 per head, these combined breach the £150 limit. So, you would have to choose which you want to be exempt. It makes more sense to exempt the Christmas party which had the higher per head value.
If an event exceeds this £150 limit, then the tax and NI charge applies to the entire amount of the benefit provided, not just the excess. You can include close family members as guests in the party, but the cost of their food, drink, accommodation and so on as part of the party must still not exceed £150, the same as any of the employees.
Events not open to all employees
If there is a specific regular event that is only open to a smaller number of staff, such as directors of the company only, then this would not be exempt under this legislation, and the cost of this would need to be declared to HMRC as a benefit and the relevant tax and NI paid.
Do the same rules apply to virtual functions?
If your staff are in a variety of locations, or primarily work from home, then some employers might have decided to provide a virtual Christmas party. This is fine, and it would in theory work in the same way and with the same caveats as an in-person Christmas party.
You would still not be able to exceed a total cost of £150 for each employee attending, and you would also need to ensure that all staff have been offered access to the party, virtual or otherwise. If this is the case, then you should be able to provide the party without any additional tax or NI liabilities.
The complication here is how to ensure your employees are provided with, say, food and drink for the virtual party without the employer simply giving money to the employee. It could be difficult to prove to HMRC that this money was solely used for the party if an audit was undertaken. So, instead the employer should consider providing the food and drink in a specific way to all employees attending, which would allow the cost to be identified centrally.
This could be done by, for example, sending a food and drink parcel or hamper to every employee in advance of the event to be consumed while everyone is at the online party.
You can find out more about what needs declaring on Gov.uk.
We can help you
If you have concerns about whether your annual Christmas party or summer BBQ needs to be declared to HMRC, then speak to us and we will work with you to ensure you do not fall foul of the rules.