Our team provides specialist legal advice on medical plans, risk benefits and related employee benefit arrangements.
Whether we are advising employers, insurance companies or benefit consultancies, we distinguish ourselves by providing our clients with a collaborative service that draws upon broad industry knowledge and the latest developments in employee benefits.
Our clients receive clear, practical and commercial legal advice on the structuring and provision of employee benefits, rooted in an understanding of providers' products and the complexities of the tax and employment legislation surrounding their provision. Our practical experience also enables us to evaluate how individual benefits interact with other elements of the employer's remuneration package and contracts of employment.
We help clients to manage legal risk across three main areas:
- life assurance and critical illness
- income protection
- private medical cover and wellbeing
Life assurance and critical illness
The wide range of group and single-life policies that are available within registered, excepted and relevant arrangements offers an employer considerable scope for flexibility when tailoring life cover to the circumstances of its employees and its business.
Take life cover out of the occupational pensions arena, and less attention may be paid to the potential tax consequences, governance and the discretionary aspects of benefit distribution. There may also be discrimination issues and compliance requirements to consider.
The provision of critical illness cover often needs to be considered in the context of other benefits. Different circumstances and types of business mean that each employer will have its own priorities that shape how these benefits should be delivered. For example, how might 'key man' insurance or shareholder and partner protections be incorporated into an overall group risk programme?
Income protection is a straightforward product that is usually simple to set up. However, it can create challenges later. Our skills in this area lie in the application of employment and tax rules to ensure the efficient integration of this benefit with existing pension rights under occupational or contract-based schemes and to assist in the event of disputes.
If a dispute should arise between employers, employees and the insurer, we have the experience and expertise to help. Prevention is, however, better than cure and reviewing the terms of an arrangement at the outset can minimise the risk of challenge. A legal review by our team will help to ensure that benefit entitlement under the rules is compatible with the terms of the insurance cover taken out by the employer.
Private medical benefits and wellbeing
The provision of private medical benefits to employees and their families is under close scrutiny from many employers. The approach to this must be cost-efficient, but also responsive to the employees' needs and effective as an absence management tool.
Associated employee health and wellbeing options are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The resurgence of corporate healthcare trusts, as an alternative to insurance, enables employers to take a more bespoke approach to the funding and design of their medical benefits arrangements.
Although the use of a trust structure involves additional steps at the outset, the potential financial, as well as HR-related, advantages can make this option worth exploring.
We work with many prominent providers, intermediaries and administrators in developing healthcare trusts. We are well-versed in explaining the concept to employers in an easy-to-understand way and working efficiently with other advisers to establish their own trust in a manner that achieves their aims within a sound governance structure and in a tax efficient manner.
Other work carried out by our employee benefits practice
In addition to reviewing and commenting upon the basic benefits structures adopted by employers, we can also look at these in the wider context of risk management. This includes considering the possibility of using an employer's existing captive insurance arrangements or their integration within group-wide or multi-national benefit programmes.
Examples of our innovations in this area include:
- The design of model life assurance policy and trust documentation for insurance companies. Our involvement ensured that policy provisions complied with the statutory rules relating to relevant and excepted group life schemes, while improving governance standards within the underlying trust.
- The development of legal solutions that allow equity partners to participate in a corporate healthcare trust for their employees and the use of trusts as part of a wider absence management package to employers.
- A legal health check review and revision of existing healthcare trust documentation to ensure that it:
- complied with HMRC's current rules
- adopted improved governance standards
- protected the position of individual trustees
- achieved a recovery of VAT on administration charges saving money that would otherwise have been lost.