The consumption check becomes a corona premium

Mid-2020, the government introduced the consumer cheque. An employer was allowed to give his staff a bonus, exempt of taxes and social security, up to a maximum of 300 euros. A year later there will be a reissue of this bonus (now called 'corona premium'), but the consumption check is also forced to be tinkered with.

Consumer vouchers for 300 euros

In the belief that the worst was behind us, the government decided mid-2020 that employers could issue consumer vouchers to their employees. The maximum amount was 300 euros. The checks were not subject to personal income tax or social security and were deductible for the employer.

The most important conditions:

The check does not replace or convert wages, premiums, or any other benefit, whether or not subject to social security contributions.

The highest nominal value of the paper consumer voucher is 10 euros per check and the absolute maximum is 300 euros. If this absolute maximum is exceeded, the advantage is completely lost (and not only for the exceeding part).

The check is in the employee's name.

The most important obstacle for the consumption voucher was probably how it could be spent. After all, the underlying intention was to support those sectors that had suffered the most from the first corona wave. Roughly speaking, the checks could only be used in the catering sector, the retail SMEs that had to close due to corona (such as bookstores, hairdressers or beauty salons), the cultural sector and the (recognized) sports associations.

The checks had to be used before 1 January 2021, except for checks issued to healthcare workers, for which the deadline was 30 June 2021.

Initially, the checks were only valid until 7 June 2021 (one year after the catering industry was allowed to open again after the lockdown of March 2020). But since the catering industry had to close its doors again quickly in autumn, the validity of consumption vouchers was extended until 31 December 2021. But that date was also modified at the end of July 2021!

Corona premium with consumer vouchers of 500 euros

In July 2021, the government repeated this exercise, this time with the so-called corona premium. In fact, it once again gives the possibility of issuing consumer vouchers to staff, but for a maximum of 500 euros. There are many similarities, but there are also some striking differences.

A first similarity is that the employer may grant the premium, but is not obliged to do so. The decision is taken either at sectoral level or at the level of the individual company.

As it was the case for the first series of consumer vouchers, the new consumer vouchers do not fall under the concept of wages (which means that they are not taken into account for e.g. severance pay).

A first important difference with the 'old' consumer vouchers is the employer's contribution of 16.5%: for the employee, the checks are still tax exempt and not subject to social security contributions, but the employer has to pay a special employer's contribution of 16.5%. Both the premium and the contribution are deductible costs for the employer.

A second striking addition to the former consumer vouchers is that the employer may issue the vouchers if the company achieved 'good results' during the crisis. What 'good results' are is not clarified. An entrepreneur with a negative result due to the corona crisis is not allowed to award a bonus to staff who have put in 200% despite everything? An open question.

The premium of 500 euros must be spent in the form of consumer vouchers. These must, if they are on paper: a) be registered, and b) state the period of validity. They should not be worth more than 10 euros each. Fortunately, the checks also exist in electronic form, for which these restrictions do not apply.

The period in which you as an employer may grant a corona premium runs from 1 August 2021 to 31 December 2021. It is therefore to be expected that quite a few employers will only decide towards the end of the year, when they have an overview of the figures, what they are going to do.

The new consumption vouchers remain valid until 31 December 2022. Like the old consumption vouchers, they may only be spent in establishments that have suffered particularly from the corona crisis. However, that list will be somewhat extended, partly due to the disappearance of the SME condition for the retail trade. In practice, almost all shopkeepers, catering establishments, contact professions, cultural institutions and sports associations can now accept these checks… if they wish to do so. These establishments are not obliged to accept consumption vouchers.

What about the old checks?

Are the old checks less interesting than the new ones? No… with the introduction of the corona premium, the 'better conditions for spending' (the validity period until 31 December 2022 and the wider range of establishments) were also immediately allowed for older cheques: consumption vouchers issued in 2020 therefore also remain valid until 31 December 2022.

Directors

Attention! The exemption from social security and income tax only applies to the granting of consumption vouchers to employees. Self-employed directors do not fall within the scope of this arrangement. If you award consumer vouchers to a director, this award will be treated as ordinary wages.