Workplace counselling to grow in wake of tax break

Experts are predicting a growth in workplace counselling as a result of tax
breaks promised by the Government.

Counselling has traditionally be classed as a benefit in kind and subject to
taxation. But the Inland Revenue quietly announced at the end of last year that
it would be exempting all counselling from tax as long as services are
generally available to all employees. Previously the only exemption had been
where counselling was given in the wake of workplace disasters such as the
Paddington rail crash.

Counselling will also escape the imposition of national insurance on
employee benefits which will come into force from April.

This liberalisation, combined with growing concerns about high stress levels
among staff leading to high rates of sickness, is seen as a springboard for
employers to offer counselling.

Employers, trade unions and counselling providers met with Inland Revenue
officials recently to discuss the detail of the new tax exemptions.

Employers campaigned to change the law which they argued went against
attempts to reduce sickness absence and was often unworkable due to the
inter-related nature of personal and work problems.

Socpo president Rita Sammons, who attended the recent meeting, said the
Inland Revenue had shown it was willing to listen and its flexible approach
would help employers reduce absenteeism and provide employee counselling.

She said that there are still questions to be answered, such as how to
distinguish between counselling and treatment and whether there would be a
limit on the number of sessions an employee can receive. The Inland Revenue
said details will be published after the Budget.

By Dominique Hammond

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