At a glance
With the current furore around the importance of green fleets, you could be forgiven for worrying whether you should be investing in any number of alternatively-powered vehicles.
But as well as the clean diesels, biofuels, LPG and CNG cars, there is a more traditional form of clean transport – the humble bicycle.
With no emissions or noise, biking is decidedly in vogue, and more and more companies are starting to notice.
Several have now introduced schemes under the Government’s Green Transport Plan that let employees take advantage of tax-free offers on new bikes.
Employees that use their bikes for work purposes are also entitled to a mileage allowance of 20p per mile.
One such company is engineering giant Atkins, which operates the Bike4Work scheme for the majority of its 12,500 employees.
According to Atkins’ head of reward, Iain Willetts, it’s a programme that has no drawbacks.
“It’s one of the salary sacrifice schemes that has enjoyed increased take-up and profile recently,” he says. “I’d seen in the trade press that it was an increasingly common benefit.
“Within the last two to three years we’ve put a lot of effort into expanding our voluntary benefits offering and we’d done a lot of salary sacrifice schemes. We’d had some experience and thought this was something we could explore.”
Atkins went with the Bike4Work scheme run by benefits company Grass Roots, with which it already had dealings for other salary sacrifice schemes.
“Grass Roots did the administration and acted as a middleman between us and Halfords – the chain we used at first,” explains Mr Willetts.
“We set a ceiling price of £1,500 for each bike – the average cost was around £400. Once the employee chooses how much they want to spend, a voucher is sent to them through the post, which they take to their local store.”
Mr Willetts says the operation of the scheme has been painless.
“It’s very clean for us. We give them the voucher and don’t really get involved in it.
“We had 250 takers last year, and as a result of that there was a lot of interest in doing it again, so we repeated it. We currently have 310 takers, and this time used a network of independent bike retailers, which means there is a great deal of choice.”
Such choice has resulted in positive feedback.
“It’s run smoothly and we’ve had 300-plus happy punters, most of whom are riding to work on their bikes,” Mr Willetts says.
“The engineering consultancy market is a competitive one and we have to be constantly looking at benefits that would be attractive.
“We’re quite a green company and because we are a technology engineering consultancy we do some specific environmental and sustainability work. There’s an awareness within the firm that any benefits with green conditions are attractive.”
Andy Lister, head of employee reward and benefits for Grass Roots, explains how the scheme was made possible.
“When the government changed the taxation rules for company cars to CO2-based, they also changed the rules on tax exemption for green travel, which includes cycling as a method of commuting,” he says.
“If the employer provides a bike for work purposes, then that bike is not subject to tax.”
Work purposes, in this instance, does not fall under the same definition as the use of cars for business.
“In order for it to be tax-free, the majority of the use of the bike has to be for work purposes, but that’s a wide definition,” explains Mr Lister.
“It means travelling from home to work, or home to another method of transport such as to the station of the bus stop. Employees may also use it in their lunch hour.
“This doesn’t mean that you have to use it every day. If you use it three times a year and twice is for work, then that’s fine.”
For those worried about keeping track of their work/pleasure riding ratio, fear not.
“HM Revenue and Customs has made it clear in their guidance that they do not expect employers or employees to keep records,” Mr Lister says.
“Providing there is no evidence of abuse, they will assume that the main use test is passed.”
The operation of the scheme is relatively simple.
“The employer buys the bikes and then lends them to the employees over a fixed term in return for a salary sacrifice, which depends on the value of the bike,” explains Mr Lister.
“It comes out of their gross pay and so saves them between 31% and 41% on the cost of the bike.
“The bike is owned by the company for the duration but at the end of the period the employer can choose to sell the bike to the employee for a nominal sum.”
Atkins has used the introduction of the scheme as a catalyst for site improvements.
Its UK offices now sport bike sheds and showers so biking workers can freshen up after their commute.
“It’s definitely a win-win scheme” says Mr Willetts.
“The employees get cheap bikes and it’s consistent with the environmental objectives and agenda that we have. Everyone’s benefiting from a tax shield and we can offer it on a national basis. We’re very pleased with it.”