How to treat employee accommodation for tax purposes

The treatment of employee accommodation (and taxable allowances) can be confusing. In 2015, the rules around employer-provided accommodation were subject to a reform, with the changes intended to provide greater clarity and cohesion for employers to understand their tax obligations.
Previously, a net benefit approach was acceptable, where accommodation provided to an employee was not taxable if the employee maintained a home in another location. Following the reform, the starting point is that accommodation provided to employees is taxable unless one of the exemptions apply (e.g. temporary, out-of-town secondment, work-related conference). But how should it be taxed?
Firstly, PAYE typically applies to the provision of a cash allowance paid to an employee. FBT usually applies to a non-cash benefit (such as the use of a car). However, the provision of accommodation comprises taxable income and is subject to PAYE, rather than FBT.
The amount of taxable income is the market rental value of the employee accommodation, less any contribution to the cost by the employee.
There are various Inland Revenue publications available to assist employers with determining the market rental value. For example, Commissioner’s Statement CS 16/02 sets out the Commissioner’s opinion on factors that can and cannot be considered; and CS 18/01 suggests market value reductions in the form of percentages specifically for boarding school employers. The overarching theme of the guidance is that employers have flexibility when determining the market rental value if a reasonable process is followed, and sufficient evidence is maintained to support the values used.
For example, an independent valuation could be obtained by a registered valuer, or an analysis of comparable rental properties could be undertaken. Further, an employer can apply their own reduction percentages that they consider to be appropriate for any given accommodation type.
Although such guidance is useful, there is little IR guidance regarding how to calculate the PAYE itself, which can lead to confusion.
The PAYE liability varies depending on whether the employee or employer pays the PAYE. If the employee’s net income in the hand does not change with or without the addition of the taxable accommodation amount, then the employer is likely to be paying the PAYE. In this situation, the market value of the accommodation should be grossed up and PAYE calculated based on the grossed-up amount. For example, assuming a 33 percent tax rate, a $300 market rental value would be grossed up to $448 to calculate a corresponding PAYE liability of $148.
If the employee receives less in the hand with the addition of the accommodation, the employee is funding the PAYE out of their salary or wage and the taxable amount is the market value of the accommodation itself. For example, a $300 market value would result in a $99 PAYE liability and the employee would receive $99 less in the hand.
Ideally, who is liable for the PAYE should be captured within the employment agreement so that both parties know what to expect and are not caught out. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss your situation.