Make most of breaks - tax breaks that is
Government scheme that works, says Sinead Ryan
As the weather progresses towards spring and, hopefully, another glorious summer, even the laziest couch potatoes consider getting out and about in the sunshine.
Of course, for hardened outdoorsy types the weather is an incidental detail, and for nobody is this more the case than the cyclist.
The upsurge in the popularity of gadding about on two wheels is extraordinary, whether it's due to the unreliability (perceived or otherwise) of public transport, erratic traffic problems, the cost of petrol or simply it being an efficient way of marrying the twin goals of getting around efficiently while exercising at the same time, it has seen thousands more get back in the saddle.
Of course financial incentives never go amiss and one of the best to come our way is the Cycle to Work scheme, which started in 2009 as a Green Party policy and has proved immensely popular.
Sadly, it is only available for employed, rather than self-employed or unemployed people. This is because an employer must support the scheme by way of an interest-free loan which is then offset against tax, so although there is paperwork involved, it is not arduous, but a compliant boss is an absolute must.
The pluses are many: you get full tax relief against Income tax, PRSI and USC if your employer 'buys' a bike for you (there are also accessories allowed - see panel).
It means that those on the higher rate of tax (40pc) get a much higher tax break than someone on the standard 20pc rate, which may seem a little unfair, as indeed it is. The actual savings are 51pc and 31pc respectively once ancillary taxes are included.
Nevertheless, if you intend on using your bike to get in and out of work it's a no-brainer. The maximum overall spend permitted is €1,000 (minimum €100) and it is allowed once in a five-year period. Any spend over this by the employer may lead to a benefit-in-kind liability.
Bear in mind, if your bike gets nicked during this time, you can't reapply under the scheme, so it's worth ensuring your house insurance is up-to-date and covers your wheels.
Your employer must pay for a new bicycle directly from the supplier (the OPW has a list of over 200 approved suppliers on the website www.procurement.ie) but most decent bike shops are included.
The cost is deducted over a maximum of 12 months, net of tax, from the employee's salary.
A tension naturally arises in the usage definition. Technically the bike must be used on 'qualifying journeys' to and from work (or a train station), although the employer does not have to police this.
Some do ask employees to sign a statement confirming such use but the purpose of the declaration is really to ensure that people don't buy a bike for their children's birthday via the scheme as happened in the early days, according to anecdotal evidence from some overly enthusiastic proponents of the scheme.
However, mindful that most cyclists won't want to lock it up during the weekends, there is a provision for up to 50pc personal use outside of office hours.
The scheme covers pedal bikes and 'pedelecs', that is, those with assisted propulsion, but not mopeds, scooters or motorbikes.
If you're not sure splashing out on a new bicycle is for you just yet, you could try the very successful dublinbikes scheme (now also in Cork) instead.
The familiar blue bikes are now an indelible part of city culture and the scheme has been so successful, it is set to quadruple within the next four years with 5,000 bikes planned by 2018. To date, almost 9.5 million journeys have been made with 52,000 long-term subscribers.
However, you do have to plan for it by purchasing an annual card (€20) or a three-day pass (€5), requiring a credit card to sign up giving a €150 guarantee, which is only applied if the bike isn't returned to a station within 24 hours.
A nominal fee applies thereafter based on hire time, so for example, two hours costs €1.50. However, 95pc of journeys so far have been under this time, so are effectively free. Bike stations are open from 5.30am-12.30am but you can return a bike anytime. The scheme is co-sponsored with Coca-Cola Zero. See www.dublinbikes.ie for more information, a list of stations and to sign up.
Cycle to work: What's allowed
You can purchase a bicycle and safety equipment from €100-€1,000 including:
* Cycle helmets (that conform to European Standard EN 1078)
* Bells and bulb horns
* Lights, including dynamo packs
* Mirrors and mudguards
* Cycle clips and dress guards
* Panniers, luggage carriers and straps
* Locks and chains
* Pumps, puncture repair kits, cycle tool kits and tyre sealant
* Reflective clothing, along with front reflectors and spoke reflectors