employee benefits


November 1, 2021

U.K. research shows a lack of pension awareness, confusion on how plans work

While it’s great to be encouraging people to join pension plans if they can, and to save for retirement on their own if they can’t, new research from the U.K. suggests we may need to educate people a little better first.

According to Employee Benefits, a recent survey carried out by U.K. HR and payroll services firm MHR found that one in four Britons didn’t have a pension at work – and that “58 per cent of respondents admitted they find it hard to understand how their schemes operate and how to contribute to a pension plan.”

The research prompted MHR’s CFO, Mark Jenkins, to tell Employee Benefits that this figure shows “the stark reality of how unprepared today’s workforces are for their future.”

The article, citing research by Canada Life, suggests there is a gender divide in the U.K. on the issue of retirement confidence, with “two-thirds of men feeling confident they will retire at the age they intend to, compared to around half of women.”

As well, the Canada Life research showed fewer women than men “did not feel they would have any financial worries in retirement, at 45 per cent and 58 per cent respectively,” Employee Benefits reports. “This suggests that targeted pensions communications may be needed to address this gender imbalance,” the article adds.

Finally, the article – citing a third batch of research from Nudge Global – notes that “only 32 per cent of (U.K.) respondents receive” personal finance education (known on this side of the pond as financial literacy). All this research leads the Employee Benefits editor, Kavitha Sivasubramaniam, to conclude that despite the fact that Brits have “auto-enrolment” in workplace pension plans (they are automatically signed up for any pension program, with the right to opt out) “it hasn’t necessarily increased engagement with, or understanding of, pensions among employees.”

She goes on to write that “studies are constantly reaching the same conclusion, highlighting that raising pensions awareness is still most definitely a work in progress.”

One could easily write a book about pension awareness/literacy. So let’s not do that here. Let’s just say this – if you’re not sure whether or not your workplace offers a retirement plan, find out from a co-worker, the boss, your internal website, the HR folks. And if you can, consider signing up to whatever type of plan is being offered.

A pension, and your retirement, is never top of mind until you get within a few years of the actual last day at work/golden watch/retirement party. From that point forward, any workplace-related pension benefit will make life much easier for the future, retired you. It’s easy, especially when you are young, with many other things on your plate, to put off thinking about retirement.

So if there’s a workplace pension that you may be able to join, consider doing so. You really don’t want to regret not joining it 30 or 40 years from now.

And if you don’t have a plan at work, fear not. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan has all the pension infrastructure you need to build your own, do-it-yourself program. They’ve been helping people save for retirement for 35 years – be sure to check them out today!

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Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

Why some employee benefits are worth more than others

April 3, 2014

By Sheryl Smolkin


You just got a job offer and in addition to a hefty salary increase you are getting all kinds of new perks like life insurance, free parking and a cell phone. The company even has a subsidized cafeteria where you buy lunch and pick up dinner- to-go for the family.

But not all employee benefits are created equal. In some cases the value of the benefits is viewed as taxable income by Canada Revenue Agency when you file your tax return.

Here are seven things that may form part of your compensation and how they are taxed by CRA.

  1. Group benefits: Amounts your employer pays for your life, accident and critical illness insurance coverage are taxable benefits. But when the company pays all or part of the cost of your extended health care, dental plan, short-term disability (STD) or long-term disability (LTD) insurance you do not pay tax on the premiums. If you collect on your short-term or long-term disability insurance you will pay taxes if any part of the premiums were employer-paid.
  2. Pensions/Group RRSPs: Your company’s contributions to your pension plan are not taxable. However, your employer’s contributions to your Group RRSP account are viewed as additional taxable income by CRA. But you can deduct RRSP contributions (up to $23,820 for 2013) so you will not actually have to pay taxes on Group RRSP contributions made by your employer on your behalf.
  3. Service and recognition awards: Cash, gift certificates and things like gifts of stock certificates and gold coins are always taxable benefits. However, you can receive tangible tax-free gifts or awards worth up to $500 annually in some specified circumstances, such as a wedding or outstanding service award. In addition, once every five years you can receive a tax-free, non-cash long-service or anniversary award worth $500 or less.
  4. Tuition reimbursement: If you get a scholarship or bursary from your employer it will be a taxable benefit unless you took the program to maintain or upgrade your employment skills. For example, if you need an executive MBA to be promoted, no tax is payable on the value of company-paid tuition. Where the company gives your child a scholarship or bursary, generally neither you nor your son or daughter who benefit from the scholarship have to pay taxes on the amount.
  5. Parking: Employer-provided parking is usually a taxable employee benefit unless you have a disability or the parking spot is provided because you regularly need to drive a car for work. If you work in a shopping centre or industrial park where parking is free to employees and customers, a taxable benefit will not be added to your remuneration. Similarly, if there are fewer parking spots than the actual number of employees (scramble parking), free parking is not valued or included in taxable income.
  6. Mobile phone: Charges paid by the company for the business use of your cellphone are not taxable. If your phone is used in part for personal reasons, that portion of the bill should be reported on your T4 as a taxable benefit. However, if the cost of the basic plan has a reasonable fixed cost and your use does not result in charges over the cost of basic service, CRA will not consider any part of the use taxable.
  7. Subsidized meals: If the company cafeteria sells subsidized meals to employees, this will not be considered a taxable benefit as long as employees pay a reasonable amount that covers the cost of food preparation and service.

More details about the taxation of these and other employee benefits or allowances can be found on the CRA website.

Also see:

CRA Benefits and Allowances Chart

Income Tax Treatment of Taxable Benefits

Some workplace benefits come tax-free

Taking full advantage of your employee benefits

September 26, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Everyone wants a raise and to make more money. One of the easiest ways to do that is to take advantage of your employee benefits. Here’s a checklist that can help you unlock the full potential of your workplace benefits.

  1. Maximize retirement savings
    Many employers match employee contributions to Saskatchewan Pension Plan, the company pension plan or Group RRSP by as much as 5 or 6 per cent of their employees’ salary. Over time it’s worth a bundle.
  2. Consider company stock
    Your company may have a payroll deduction plan that lets you buy shares at a discount. It is a taxable benefit and any decision to buy company stock should be part of your overall investment strategy. When Nortel failed, many employees who owned company shares lost both their jobs and a significant chunk of their nest eggs.
  3. Submit all medical bills
    Often your pharmacy and dentist will submit bills directly to your insurance company. However, other bills must be submitted by you. Check out your plan to see what’s eligible, keep the receipts and submit them. Even small amounts add up.
  4. Coordinate benefit plans
    If you and your spouse, or partner, have benefits make sure they are co-ordinated. Instead of getting a portion of your bills paid, you may be able to collect it all by using both. If a root canal costs $1,000 and your company only pays half, you have a lot to lose.
  5. Health Care Spending Account: Use it or lose it
    Health Spending Accounts are a popular way for employers to give employees benefits choice. The company provides a lump sum, say $500, which can be used to pay for things not fully covered by the basic medical plan. Check your benefits information to understand how your HSA works. Also make sure to read and act upon statements or emails advising you that your HSA balance will be forfeited if it is not used by a certain date.
  6. Monitor your maximums
    Make sure you know how much you can spend each year for dental work, physiotherapy, massage therapy, orthotics or glasses. Time your appointments and purchases accordingly.
  7. Maternity and parental leave top up
    Ottawa pays up to $501 a week for 50 weeks of parental leave, after a two-week waiting period. Many companies pay full salary for the waiting period and top up to 95 or 100 per cent of salary. To be eligible for the government and company benefits you have to accumulate at least 600 hours of insurable employment in the previous year or since you lasted collected benefits.
  8. Employee Assistance Plan
    Employee Assistance Plans offer a lot of value. They are available at no cost to you by telephone 24/7. Getting the help you need when you need it is priceless if it means you can function well enough to keep your job or hold your family together in a crisis.
  9. Tuition reimbursement
    Many companies will pay for tuition if the course is approved and you pass. If your employer is willing to fully or partially fund an Executive MBA, you’ve really hit the jackpot. The 2013/2014 fees for a distance MBA from Athabasca University can be up to $50,000.
  10. Get fit at work
    Take advantage of in-house gyms, sports teams and wellness challenges to get fit for free. Working out is also more affordable if your employer has negotiated a corporate rate at a fitness club and/or subsidizes fitness club memberships.
  11. Use up your vacation days
    Your company probably has restrictions on unused vacation that can be cashed out or carried over to the next year. Check the rules and use them up.
  12. Corporate travel
    Corporate travel can be more of a pain than a perk if it takes you away from home for long periods. However, business travelers rack up a huge number of airline points. Some companies allow employees to charge travel to personal credit cards and retain airline points for personal use. And airline points you earn on the job are not a taxable benefit. Also, if you are going somewhere interesting and your hotel room is paid for, you may be able to take your family along on a vacation for a fraction of the normal cost.

Do you have tips for employees to maximize their use of employee benefits? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

06-Oct Seniors Colleges, universities offer free tuition for seniors
10-Oct Thanksgiving Paying it forward: Volunteer opportunities
17-Oct Halloween Cheap and cheerful costumes, snacks