Get on yer bike
Fancy spending €1,000 tax-free on a new bicycle courtesy of an innovative Budget scheme to encourage people to cycle to work?
OF all the things you could do to help cut back on your day-to-day transport costs, using a bicycle for your daily commute to work has got to be one of the most effective.
After all, you don't need to tax or insure a bicycle, nor do you need to pay for parking in city or town centres, including the new €200 parking levy now being brought in to some cities.
It also has the advantage of being probably the only transport option, besides walking, that is good for your health.
But if the idea of retrieving the sad and rusty old boneshaker that's been lying in your shed for ages doesn't appeal, from next month you will be able to buy a swish new bicycle and safety equipment worth up to €1,000 tax-free through a new scheme announced in the Minister for Finance's Budget speech in October.
The recent publication of the 2009 Finance Bill, which brings into effect measures announced in the Budget, produced the full detail of the much talked about cycle-to-work scheme.
The scheme is part of the Government's ambitious plans to get more people on bicycles in a bid to reduce carbon emissions from transport.
By the year 2020, it wants to see bicycles being used for 10pc of all journeys and 150,000 commuters using it to get to work.
Currently just 4pc of Dublin commuters travel by bicycle to work, one of the lowest figures in Europe.
So how does the scheme work and is it worth the saving?
Under the scheme, employers will be able to purchase bicycles and safety accessories tax-free to a value of €1,000 for their employees.
The funding of the bicycle can be organised in one of two ways.
The employer can buy the bicycle as a company benefit for the employee, or the employee pays for the bicycle by paying it off in installments from his or her salary.
But either way, the bicycle must be purchased by the employer.
If employers pay for the bicycle, they can claim it as a tax exempt benefit-in-kind. If the employee pays for it through a salary sacrifice there will be savings on tax, PRSI and levies.
If you are a top rate taxpayer, you can save 41pc on the cost of a new bicycle, but you will only get a 20pc discount if you are on the lower rate.
So if you buy a bicycle and accessories worth say, €500, you will save €205 on the usual retail price, while those on the lower rate will only save €100. The more expensive the bicycle, the greater the saving.
In theory, there is nothing to stop you buying a bike and accessories worth more than €1,000, but the tax relief will only apply to the first €1,000.
If you want to buy a bicycle through this scheme, your employer must agree to it.
Under the rules of the scheme, employers will not be permitted to purchase bikes for their employees if they don't believe that they will be used for cycling to and from work by the employees in question.
There are some question marks over how this rule will be enforced, but it is understood that employers who participate in the scheme will be subjected to the normal Revenue audit procedures.
This means that employers will need to maintain records for the purchase in the same way they do for any other company benefit.
In addition, the tax relief available under the scheme can only be used once every five years.
There are several other conditions laid down by the scheme.
The bicycle must be new, not secondhand, and it must be bought as a complete bike (it cannot be bought separately as a frame, wheels and parts and then built up).
Those who buy electric bikes will not qualify for tax relief under the scheme.
The bicycle and equipment can be bought from any retailer, including online shops.
According to the Finance Bill, the list of safety equipment covered under the scheme includes cycle helmets, bells, horns, lights, mirrors, mud guards, reflective clothing panniers, luggage carriers and straps.
While the scheme has been broadly welcomed, some cycling campaigners here have expressed scepticism, particularly over whether the affordability of a bike is the key issue that discourages more people from cycling to work.
"It is the perception among citizens that it is dangerous to cycle on our roads which is the key issue," says Dr Mike McKillen, chairman of the Dublin Cycling Campaign.