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Sick-leave tax break favours government-funded body, say doctors leaders

Occupational medicine doctors are concerned about government plans to implement tax exemptions for employers who spend money on health interventions for staff on sick leave.

sick noteFrom 2014, employers could be able to claim tax relief on expenditure of up to £500 on treatment and therapies for each employee on sick leave of four weeks or more.

However, the financial benefit would only be available to claim on those employees referred by the government-funded IAS (Independent Assessment Service), a health and work assessment and advisory service, due to start next year.

The BMA has responded to an informal Treasury consultation to gauge opinion on the proposals, which were outlined in this year’s budget.

The BMA has been generally supportive of the concept of the IAS but has expressed some reservations about the process, procurement and governance of the service and is concerned about recent tax exemption proposals.


'Not a substitute'

BMA occupational health committee chair Paul Nicholson said this seemed to encourage a monopoly that favoured the IAS, as the tax break was conditional on a recommendation from that service.

‘The proposed tax exemption is very likely to encourage employers to refer staff to the IAS, which may not necessarily be the most competent local service,’ Dr Nicholson said.

‘The advisory service is not a substitute for a comprehensive occupational health service that includes risk assessment and risk management.

‘[If this service is] subsidised it might dissuade employers from investing in, employing or contracting a comprehensive occupational health service.’


Less bespoke

Dr Nicholson argued that the IAS advice could be ‘less bespoke’ than from more comprehensive services, more narrow in focus and carry less influence with employers on investing in safer work environments.

He added: ‘The BMA believes that if a tax advantage is to be granted, it should at the least extend to recommendations of other doctors on the specialist register for occupational medicine.’

The government will publish a summary of the responses to its consultation in the autumn, which will then inform the draft legislation prior to next year’s budget.

The establishment of the IAS was a recommendation from the independent review of sickness absence led by former Royal College of Physicians of London president Professor Dame Carol Black and former British Chambers of Commerce director general David Frost.

Read the consultation

Read the report Health at Work – an Independent Review of Sickness Absence