The March 2016 Budget

George Osbourne presented his latest budget last Wednesday and whilst most of the media coverage focussed on proposals to cut welfare benefits, the budget contained a number of changes and proposals relating to employment law. 
• Draft legislation has already been published for the introduction in April 2017 of an apprenticeship levy whereby a contribution equating to 0.5% of total payroll will be collected from larger employers to fund a system of digital vouchers available to all employers to pay for the cost of apprenticeships (see below for more detail).  It was announced last Wednesday that employers who have to pay the apprenticeship levy will receive a top up payment from the Government equating to 10% of their monthly levy contribution which they can use to fund apprenticeships.

• The Government is to launch a consultation about extending shared parental leave and pay to working grandparents. 

• The Capital Gains Tax exemption available to employee shareholders has been capped at £100,000 in respect of shares issued from last Thursday onwards.  What that means is that when the shares are disposed of, capital gains up to the new lifetime limit of £100,000 will be exempt from CGT but gains above this limit will be subject to CGT in the normal way. 

• From April 2018, employers will have to pay National Insurance contributions as well as income tax on the balance of any termination payment in excess of £30,000. 

• Employers who are subject to a civil penalty for employing illegal workers will lose the benefit of their National Insurance contributions employment allowance for a period of one year.

• As a result of concerns about the expanding use of salary sacrifice schemes, the Government is to consider restricting the benefits which can be provided via salary sacrifice.  It was confirmed that salary sacrifice for enhanced employer pension contributions, childcare benefits and health-related benefits, such as the cycle to work scheme, would be unaffected.

Draft legislation on the Apprenticeship Levy

Draft legislation has been published by the Government in respect of the apprenticeship levy. The legislation will be included in the Finance Bill 2016 and will come into effect from 6 April 2017.

The apprenticeship levy will be collected from larger employers for the benefit of all employers who will be able to access the scheme by using digital vouchers to pay for apprenticeship training for apprentices of 16 or older.

The levy will be payable by employers across all sectors in the UK and will amount to 0.5% of their total pay bill. Each employer will have an annual allowance of £15,000 to offset against their levy payment so the levy will only apply to larger employers, with a total annual pay bill of over £3 million.  That means fewer than 2% of employers will pay any levy at all.

Funding for training will be accessible to all employers in England via the Digital Apprenticeships Service. Employers who pay the levy will be able to access more funding than they have put in, through the recently announced government top-up of 10%..

Auto--enrolment Earnings Trigger for 2016/17

Employers must automatically enrol workers into a workplace pension arrangement providing that employees satisfy specified age and earnings criteria.  A draft statutory instrument has been put before Parliament amending the auto-enrolment earnings criteria for 2016/2017.

The draft statutory instrument states: 

• the earnings threshold remains at £10,000;
• the lower earnings band is £5,824 (to retain the link with the National Insurance Contributions Lower Earnings Limit);
• the upper earnings band will increase from £42,385 to £43,000 (to correspond with the upper earnings limit for National Insurance Contributions).

Response to Consultation on the Gender Pay Gap

In February 2016 the Government issued its consultation, ‘Closing the Gender Pay Gap’, which considered draft regulations requiring employers with 250 or more employees to publish information about the amount of pay received by men and women in their organisation, i.e. their gender pay gap.

The Government received nearly 700 responses to its consultation, including over 200 from employers, and has now published its response.

The proposals as they now stand are as follows. Employers must:

• Publish overall gender pay gap figures calculated using both mean and median average pay.
• Report on the number of men and women in each of four salary quartiles, based on the employer's overall pay range in order to show how the gender pay gap differs across the organisation at different levels of seniority.
• Publish separate information on the gender pay gap relating to bonuses.

The report must be published annually and whilst the Government has said it will provide guidelines for employers on how to comply with the new reporting requirements, it will not provide any assistance with the cost of reporting, which it believes will be minimal. 

In spite of the fact that two thirds of respondents to the consultation thought there should be a civil penalty for non compliance, the Government has decided to enforce the regime on an informal basis which will include running periodic checks to assess for non-compliance, producing tables by sector of employers' reported gender pay gaps and naming and shaming employers who have not complied.


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