Are you providing cars to employees? Here’s what you need to know
What is a car fringe benefit?
A car fringe benefit commonly arises when an employer makes a car they own or lease available for the private use of an employee. If you conduct your business through a company or trust, you may be an employee of the company or a trust.
A car is made available for private use by an employee on any day the car:
- is used for private purposes by the employee or associate
- is not at your premises, and the employee is permitted to use it for private purposes
- is garaged at their place of residence, regardless of whether they have permission to use it privately.
Exempt car benefits
WORK-RELATED TRAVEL IN COMMERCIAL CARS
A car benefit will be exempt where the vehicle is a taxi, panel van, utility or other road vehicle designed to carry a load, other than passengers of less than one tonne. The employee’s private use is limited to incidental or minor work-related travel, such as infrequent and irregular work between home and work.
CARS USED FOR EMERGENCY SERVICES
Cars used for emergency services that are garaged or kept at or near an employee’s residence are exempt car benefits, where the car used is police, ambulance or firefighting services vehicle; is fitted with flashing warning lights and a siren and has exterior markings which indicate its use.
CARS SUPPLIED BY PERSONAL ENTITIES
A personal service entity is unable to deduct car expenses from more than one car used by an individual. The second car benefits are exempt in relation to an FBT year.
Learn how to calculate the taxable value of a car fringe benefit here: Car Fringe Benefit Factsheet
ATO outlines new Safe Harbour provisions
Workhorse vehicles are generally exempt from the car fringe benefit rules, provided the private use of that vehicle is restricted to only minor, infrequent and irregular use. For example, dropping off / picking up children to school on the way to / from work. Where the private use is more than minor, infrequent and irregular a residual fringe benefit has been provided and there is a different method to work how much FBT is payable.
A workhorse vehicle is a panel van, utility (ute) or other commercial vehicles (that is, one not designed principally to carry passengers) such as a dual cab ute with a carrying capacity of more than one tonne.
Recently the ATO has released some safe harbour provisions that if you can satisfy, you will be safe in the event of an FBT audit. Download the Workhorse Vehicles and new Safe Harbour provisions Factsheet to learn the details.
Employee business cars tips & traps
The provision of company cars to employees is a regular practice across the Australian business landscape. Generally, there are two reasons to provide a car to an employee:
- It’s a requirement of the job that employees travel regularly for work purposes, so providing a car will allow employees to effectively perform their duties.
- Employers want to give themselves an advantage over their competitors being ‘employers of choice’, attracting the best and brightest, by converting non-deductible private vehicles to tax-deductible company cars for their employees.
Granting employees’ access to company cars is treated by the ATO as a ‘non-cash benefit’, more commonly referred to as a fringe benefit. Fringe benefits provided to employees and/or their associates are subject to Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT), which is currently set at a flat 47% of a benefit’s ‘taxable’ value.
With the tax rate for fringe benefits set at 47%, the obvious question is why would small business owners grant an employee access to a company car? Considering that the great majority of Australian taxpayers are currently paying marginal tax rates of between 34.5% and 39% (for the 2021 financial year and including the Medicare levy) it seems counter-intuitive to allow this. After all, this does translate to an additional 8% to 12.5% tax liability that could be avoided if the employee were simply given a pay rise.
The answer to this question lies in how the ‘taxable value’ of the fringe benefit (i.e. the car) is calculated. The taxable value of a car fringe benefit is meant to reflect an employee’s ‘private use’ of the vehicle, as only the private use of the car is subject to FBT. Additionally, the FBT law allows ‘employee contributions’ to reduce the taxable value of the car fringe benefit.
If the taxable value of a car can be reduced to nil, then no FBT will be payable. As such, employers are inadvertently provided with an avenue to provide employees with extra value without incurring additional expenses.
Learn how to avoid expensive traps when calculating the taxable value of a car fringe benefit by downloading Employee Business Cars Tips & Traps Factsheet.
Motor Vehicles During COVID-19 Restrictions
You won’t provide a car fringe benefit where a car is not applied for your employee’s private use or taken to be available for your employee’s private use.
During a period of COVID-19 restrictions, a car that you have provided to your employee is not taken to be available for your employee’s private use if all the following apply:
- the car is returned to your business premises
- your employee cannot gain access to the car
- your employee has relinquished an entitlement to use your car for private purposes.
You may have been garaging work cars at your employees’ homes due to COVID-19. You may not have an FBT liability depending on:
- the type of vehicle
- how often the car is driven, and
- the calculation method you choose for car benefits.
Contact KMT accountants now if you need advice or assistance with FBT Return lodgement!
This is general advice only and does not take into account your financial circumstances, needs and objectives. Before making any decision based on this document, you should assess your own circumstances or seek tax advice from your accountants at KMT Partners. Information is current at the date of issue and may change.
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