Smart working: meal vouchers are still exempt (Agendadigitale.eu, 15 March 2021 – Nunzio Lena, Andrea Di Nino)
The Inland Revenue, in its answer to question no. 123 of 22 February 2021, clarified the tax and social security payment for meal vouchers received by smart working employees.
The tax authority expressed a favourable opinion on exempting meal vouchers for employees working remotely.
The question addressed
A bilateral organisation asked the Inland Revenue to clarify whether the meal vouchers provided as canteen replacement service to its smart working employees counted as employee income, for direct taxation purposes under Article 51, paragraph 2, letter c), of the TUIR (Consolidated Law on Income Tax).
The organisation has made a general use of smart working because of the pandemic and the new requirements related to the containment of the COVID-19 epidemiological emergency that have prompted the legislature to encourage this employment method to stem the spread of the virus and limit contagion within the workplace and companies.
The organisation asked the Inland Revenue whether, as withholding agent, it is required “to withhold IRPEF on the canteen replacement service value using meal vouchers to its employees under smart working”, under Article 23 of Presidential Decree no. 600/1973.
The applicant suggested the following interpretation
The applicant, suggested that for contribution purposes, Article 6, paragraph 3, of the Decree-Law no. 333/1992 “excludes meal vouchers from representing a part of the employee’s remuneration, unless collective agreements and contracts, including company agreements, provide otherwise.”
Without a contractual provision classifying meal vouchers as an element of remuneration, the applicant considers that, “regardless of the way work is carried out (in presence or smart working), meal vouchers fall within the scope of canteen replacement services, for direct taxation purposes and are partially exempt from being considered part of employee income under Article 51, paragraph 2, letter c), of the TUIR.”
Ultimately, the applicant suggested that, for the periods when employees are smart working “no IRPEF withholding tax should be applied to the allocated meal vouchers.”
The Inland Revenue’s opinion
In its answer, the Inland Revenue stated that as an exception to the all-inclusiveness principle that governs employee income, Article 51, paragraph 2, letter c) of the TUIR, “the provision of food by the employer including canteens organised directly by the employer or managed by third parties; services replacing meals up to a total daily amount of €4, increased to €8 if they are provided electronically; allowances replacing meals paid to workers on construction sites, other temporary work facilities or production units located in areas where there are no catering facilities or services up to a total daily amount of €5.29” do not count as part of the employee’s income.
The logic behind this favourable tax regime is inspired by the legislator’s desire to exempt payments to employees that are linked to the employer’s need to “provide for the food requirements of staff who have to eat a meal during working hours.”
The tax authority goes on to examine the rule and related practice, highlighting how Article 4 of the Ministry of Economic Development Decree no. 122/2017 states that meal vouchers:
- allow the holder to receive a canteen replacement service equal to the meal voucher face value;
- allow the contracted establishment to give documentary evidence of the service provided to the issuing company;
- are used exclusively by full- or part-time employees, even if working hours do not include a meal break, and by those who have established a collaboration with the customer, including non-employees; they cannot be transferred or accumulated beyond the limit of eight vouchers, nor can they be traded or converted into cash, and can only be used by the holder;
- can only be used for their full-face value.
The provision contained in the ministerial decree “considers that work is increasingly characterised by flexibility” while it noted that tax law does not provide “a definition of canteen replacement services, but gives a general description as not being part of income within the limits described.”
Since there are no provisions which limit employer disbursement of meal vouchers in favour of its employees, the Inland Revenue confirms that for such canteen replacement services the partial taxation regime of letter c) of paragraph 2 of Article 51 of the TUIR is applicable, regardless of the working time and method.
In this case, the Inland Revenue established that meal vouchers granted to employees – regardless of the working method – do not count as employee income, under Article 51, paragraph 2, letter c), of the TUIR. Based on the above, employers will not be required “to apply the IRPEF withholding tax to smart working employees, under Article 23 of Presidential Decree no. 60/1973, on the meal vouchers value up to € 4, if paper, or € 8, if electronic.”