Product in focus: Gym membership

Encouraging staff to improve fitness levels can help to reduce sickness absence, but employers must consider tax issues around perk, says David Woods

Gym membership as a benefit typically involves offering staff discounted access to gym facilities, or providing a fitness centre on site for them to use.

Employers that opt for off-site provision can implement this in a number of different ways. Initially, they will need to make contact with a gym provider, be this a local independent gym or a national chain, which has facilities located near to all the employer’s sites. Most gym operators will offer a discounted corporate rate. Mike Petersen, national corporate manager at Cannons Health Clubs, explains that this can be up to 15% depending on factors such as the size of an organisation’s workforce.

Employers can either approach a gym in person to negotiate a corporate rate or submit a corporate enquiry online through the websites of fitness firms.

According to Petersen, the easiest option for employers is to simply pass this discounted rate on to employees who will then pay for their membership themselves.

In some cases, this can be as simple as arranging for staff to be able to show a business card or pay slip at a local gym in order to receive discounted entry. This means that staff benefit from a corporate discounted rate and employers can take a relatively hands-off approach to providing the perk, as they will only need to cover the cost of communicating the benefit to staff.

Alternatively, employers can initially cover the cost of employees’ membership and enable them to make repayments through a salary deduction arrangement. Unless use of the gym is restricted to an organisation’s staff, however, employees will be liable for tax and national insurance contributions (NICs), and the perk must be reported under P11D, says Inez Anderson, tax director at Smith and Williamson.

A further option is for employers to simply cover the cost of offering the benefit. Employers that fund the perk for staff can claim back the value-added tax (VAT) on the cost at the end of the financial year.

Depending the type of gym membership arrangement employers end up choosing, they can offer the perk through a voluntary or flexible benefits scheme.

Using a third-party gym operator, however, is not the only way of providing discounted, subsidised or employer-funded gym membership for staff. Organisations can also provide on-site facilities if they have the space and resources to do so. If gyms are made available to all staff and are not open to the public, they are free from tax and NICs for employees and NICs for employers.

Offering access to gym membership can help employers tackle issues such as high sickness absence levels. It can also boost staff loyalty and engagement levels. “With the way the market is changing right now, more and more [employers] are starting to offer gym packages as a benefit to increase employee loyalty,” says Petersen.

Product file: gym membership

What is gym membership?
Employers that wish to offer gym membership to staff can either negotiate discounts directly with national or local facilities, or set up an on-site facility. They can then choose how much of the cost, if any, to pass on to employees.

The benefit can be included in either a flexible or voluntary benefits scheme.

Where can I get more information?
For further details about the tax status of this benefit visit: employers/ebik/ebik2/sporting-facilities-01.htm. or ebik/ebik2/sporting-facilities-02.htm

Who are the main providers?
• Cannons Health Clubs
• David Lloyd Leisure
• Fitness First
• Incorpore
• LA Fitness
• Livingwell
• Virgin Active