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Relevant Life insurance plans - 9 key facts for contractors

When you move to contracting, any life insurance benefits previously paid by your employer will be effectively cancelled, leaving you and your loved ones exposed should the worst happen. To provide a financial safety net for your dependents, you must take out a life insurance policy.

Or it might be that you already have life and critical illness cover policies that you have taken out personally, with the premiums paid with your own money after taxes have been deducted from your earnings.

You can therefore benefit significantly via the tax reliefs available by switching to a Relevant Life Insurance Plan whereby the insurance premiums are paid by your limited company before taxes are applied, thereby attracting significant tax relief.

Whether setting up a new policy or moving an existing one, a Relevant Life Plan (RLP) provides the safety you need, the same as you had when you were employed.

How is a Relevant Life Insurance Plan different?

RLPs are identical to personal life insurance except in two key respects:

  1. Your limited company takes out the policy, not you personally.
  2. You benefit from the tax relief on the premiums.

How much life insurance can an RLP provide?

If you die, your dependants can receive up to 25 times your combined income from salary and dividends as a cash lump sum.

Every £100 of your daily rate works out to £360,000 per year, assuming a 48-hour working week.

Policy insurance of £1,000,000 can seem significant but is a prevalent figure for contractors earning more than £80,000 per year. Securing a £1,000,000 life policy might cost circa £90-£100 per month if you are in good health.

Someone earning over £300 per day could secure £1,000,000. Considering that your dependents will need the mortgage paid off and a regular income, it is easy to see why you may need to insure yourself for more than £1,000,000.

Here are nine key facts about RLPs to help you choose the proper protection:

1. RLPs are death-in-service benefits payable to a contractor's beneficiaries

RLPs are the same as the death-in-service benefit most contractors would receive when employed. The policy will pay out a cash lump sum to the contractor's beneficiaries in the event of their death for as long as the premiums are paid and the policy is in force.

2. RLPs are taken out by a contractor's company, not the contractor

Unlike personal life insurance, an RLP is taken out by the contractor's limited company and not the contractor personally. The company pays the premiums; the cash lump sum benefit is paid to the contractor's family.

RLPs are designed for companies to provide a benefit to their employees' families. Contractors are employees of their limited company, so the principle is the same.

3. Premiums are corporation tax deductible

Unlike personal life insurance policies, the premiums for RLPs are paid for by the contractor's limited company out of gross fee income. As a legitimate business expense, the premiums are tax deductible against corporation tax. So, a contractor benefits from diverting the costs to their business and the resulting tax efficiency.

4. There is no P11D benefit-in-kind to pay

There is no benefit-in-kind income tax charge for an RLP: When contractors take benefits such as a company car or private health insurance, they must declare the benefit on their P11D at the end of the tax year. They then pay income tax and National Insurance Contributions (NICs) on the value of the benefit as determined by HMRC's rules.

However, HMRC's rules say there is no benefit-in-kind charge for the premiums a contractor's limited company pays out on RLPs. The contractor's employer – their limited company - foots the entire bill. No income tax or NIC liabilities exist for either the contractor or their company.

5. The lump sum can be worth up to 15x salary and dividends

When employed, many contractors will recall that their death-in-service benefit would have paid out a multiple of their salary, typically between three and five times. RLPs recognise that contractors take their remuneration tax efficiently through low salaries and dividends.

Contractors can choose to take out a policy that pays out the multiple of salary and dividends that they choose or can best afford. Although there is no statutory maximum, the maximum multiple offered by most providers is typically 15x salary and dividends, which for high-earning contractors can be a considerable sum to leave to their loved ones.

6. The payout is free from income tax and inheritance tax

As well as being tax efficient to pay for, an RLP is also tax efficient when paying out. No income tax or inheritance tax liabilities exist for the contractor, or their dependents should the contractor suffer an untimely death and the policy pays out.

7. RLPs only include death benefits and only pay out a lump sum

As well as understanding the benefits, it is essential for contractors to understand what RLPs won't cover. An RLP will only pay a lump sum to a contractors dependents in the event of their death. An RLP is not a critical illness or income protection policy.

Contractors should make separate provisions for income protection if they become too ill to work. Their RLP is not a substitute for this kind of protection.

8. There is no surrender value

Unlike pensions and investments that pay out if cancelled early, an RLP is a life insurance policy. It remains in force as long as the contractor's limited company maintains the premiums and none of the cover conditions are breached. If the contractor chooses to stop paying the premiums, the cover stops, and there is no surrender value.

9. Policies must not be set up for tax avoidance purposes

RLPs use discretionary trusts that are taken out and paid for by the employer – the contractor's limited company – to pay the beneficiaries: This type of financial structure is open to abuse and, under some circumstances, can be used as a tax avoidance vehicle.

For that reason, financial services providers stipulate that the contractor can only specify individuals, such as family members, and charities as beneficiaries. The employer, the contractors limited company, cannot be a beneficiary to avoid any suggestion that the policy has been created for tax avoidance purposes.

Contractors should seek professional advice from a financial adviser before taking critical decisions about RLPs and other forms of protection.

Updated: 26 October 2023

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