Category: Employee Expenses

Do you visit other offices or are you seconded to a different workplace? Make sure you’re getting the tax benefits

Travel expenses and the 24-month rule

As a general rule, employees are denied a tax deduction for the cost of travel between home and work. Likewise, subject to a few limited exceptions, if the employer meets the cost of home to work travel, the employee is taxed on it.

One of the main exceptions to this rule is where an employee attends a ‘temporary workplace’. This is a workplace that the employee goes to in order to perform a task of limited duration or one that he attends for a temporary purposes, even if the attendance is on a regular basis.

Example 1

Polly is based in the Milton Keynes office. She is seconded to the Bedford office for 12 months to cover an employee’s maternity leave. At the end of the secondment, she will return to the Bedford office.

The Bedford office is a temporary workplace.

Consequently, Polly is allowed a deduction for travel from her home to the Bedford office.

Example 2

James is a health and safety officer. He is based in the Liverpool head office. Each week he visits factories in Manchester and Bury to carry out safety checks. The factories are temporary workplaces as each visit is self-contained.

Consequently, James is allowed a deduction for travel expenses incurred in visiting the factories, even if he travels there from home.

24-month rule

A workplace does not count as a temporary workplace if the employee attends it in a period of continuous work which lasts, or is expected to last more than 24 months. A ‘period of continuous work’ is one where the duties are performed at the location in question to a ‘significant extent’. HMRC regard duties being performed to a ‘significant extent’ at a particular location if an employee spends 40% or more of their working time there.

The upshot of this rule is that where the employee has spent, or is likely to spend, 40% of their working time at the location in question over a period of more than 24 months, that location will be a permanent location rather than a temporary location. Consequently, home to work travel is ‘ordinary commuting’ (travel between home and a permanent workplace), which is not deductible.

It is important to appreciate that both parts of the test must be met for the workplace to be a permanent workplace – more than 40% of time spent there and over a period of more than 24 months.

Example 3

George is employed full-time at a care home in Southampton, a role which he has held for four years. He is sent to full-timework at a new care home in Bournemouth for three years, after which time he will return to the Southampton care home.

Although the move to the Bournemouth posting is not permanent, the posting lasts more than 24 months and, as such, the Bournemouth home does not qualify as a temporary workplace. 

Consequently, George is not allowed a deduction for the cost of travelling from home to the Bournemouth care home.

Change of circumstances

Circumstances can and do change. If at the outset a posting is expected to last 24 months, the workplace will be treated as a temporary workplace. If later the posting is extended so that it will last more than 24 months, the workplace ceases to be a temporary workplace from the date that it becomes apparent the posting will exceed 24 months.

Fixed term appointments rule

An employee undertaking a fixed-term appointment is not entitled to relief for home to work travel, even where it lasts less than 24 months, if the employee attends the workplace for all, or almost all of the period which they are likely to hold the appointment.

Example

Imogen takes on a 12-month contract at an office in Marlow. Although the appointment is less than 24 months, the Marlow office is not a temporary workplace as Imogen works there for duration of the contract.

Tax exemption

If the employer pays or reimburses travel expenses which would be deductible if met by the employee, the payment or reimbursement is exempt from tax.

Partner note: ITEPA 2003, ss. 289A, 338, 339;

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Employing family members

It is permissible for a business to claim a tax deduction for the cost of a reasonable wage paid to a family member who helps in the business. Their duties could, for example, include answering the phone, going to the bank, bookkeeping and other administrative tasks.

The tax legislation specifies that ‘in calculating the profits of a trade, no deduction is allowed for expenses not incurred wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the trade’, which indicates that as long as the work is undertaken, the payments are realistic and actually made, there should not be a problem with claiming tax relief.

The benefits of spreading income around family members where possible include maximising the use of annual personal tax allowances (£12,500 per individual (children and adults) in 2019/20), and potentially taking advantage of nil and lower rate tax thresholds.

‘Family’ could include anyone who depends on the owners of the family business for their financial well-being (for example, elderly relatives and/or long-standing domestic staff members), but care must be taken not to fall foul of the ‘settlements’ legislation and other anti-avoidance measures in force at the time.

Keeping records

The tax deductibility of wages paid through a business has recently been examined by the Tax Tribunal. The business owner claimed that wages paid to his son had been paid partly through the ‘provision of goods’. He managed to substantiate some cash payments and a monthly direct debit (for insurance costs) by reference to his son’s bank statements. However, the bulk of the claim was based on buying food and drink to help support his son at university. Unfortunately, the tribunal concluded that the payments were made out of ‘natural parental love and affection’. There was a duality of purpose as the ‘wages’ had a major underlying ‘private and personal’ motive, and thus not for the purposes of the trade. The tribunal subsequently dismissed the appeal on the grounds that the business owner was doing nothing more than supporting his son at university.

The outcome of this case could have been very different if the business owner had used an alternative methodology for paying his son’s wages. In particular, the judge noted that had payment been made on a time recorded basis or using some other approach to calculate the amount payable, and had an accurate record been maintained of the hours worked and the amount paid, it is unlikely that the deduction would have been denied.

In particular, this case highlights the importance of maintaining proper records regarding the basis on which payments are to be made to children. A direct link between the business account and the recipient’s account would clearly be advisable.  For example, if the business owner had paid the wages directly into his son’s bank account, leaving the son to purchase his own food and drink from the money he earned from his father, bank statements could subsequently have been used to provide evidence of what had been paid and this could be linked to the record of hours worked. Maintaining the link is the key issue here.

Rate of pay

It is also worth noting that HMRC examine whether a commercial rate is being paid to family members. The concept of ‘equal pay for equal value’ should help prevent a suggestion of dual purpose and thus, in turn, should also help refute allegations of excessive payments to family members as a means of extracting monies from the business.

Finally, wherever payments are made to family member, legal issues such as the national minimum wage should also be borne in mind.

Partner Note: ITTOIA 2005, s 34; Nicholson v HMRC [2018] TC06293

Is the summer party tax-free?

A statutory exemption exists, which allows employers to meet the cost of certain social events for staff without triggering a liability to tax or NICs, providing certain conditions are met.

The legislation refers to ‘an annual party or similar annual function’. Although HMRC do not seem to interpret this to mean that the same event must be held every year, it may be prudent to check the issue in advance where a one-off event is planned.

Conditions

A staff event will qualify as a tax-free benefit if the following conditions are satisfied:

  • the total cost must not exceed £150 per head, per year
  • the event must be primarily for entertaining staff
  • the event must be open to employees generally, or to those at a particular location, if the employer has numerous branches or departments

The ‘cost per head’ of an event is the total cost (including VAT) of providing:

  1. the event, and
  2. any transport or accommodation incidentally provided for persons attending it (whether or not they are the employer’s employees), divided by the number of those persons.

Provided the £150 limit is not exceeded, any number of parties or events may be held during the tax year, for example, there could be three parties held at various times, each costing £50 per head.

The £150 is a limit, not an allowance – if the limit is exceeded by just £1, the whole amount must be reported to HMRC.

If there are two parties, for example, where the combined cost of each exceeds £150, the £150 limit is offset against the most expensive one, leaving the other one as a fully taxable benefit.

Example

ABC Ltd pays for an annual Christmas party costing £150 per head and a summer barbecue costing £75 per head. The Christmas party would be covered by the exemption, but employees would be taxed on summer barbecue costs, as a benefit-in-kind.

Tax treatment for employers

The cost of staff events is tax deductible for the business. The legislation provides a let-out clause, which means that entertaining staff is not treated for tax in the same way as customer entertaining. The expenses will be shown separately in the business accounts – usually as ‘staff welfare’ costs or similar.

There is no monetary limit on the amount that an employer can spend on an annual function. If a staff party costs more than £150 per head, the cost will still be an allowable deduction, but the employees will have a liability to pay tax and National Insurance Contributions (NICs) arising on the benefit-in-kind.

The employer may agree to settle any tax charge arising on behalf of the employees. This may be done using a HMRC PAYE Settlement Agreement (PSA), which means that the benefits do not need to be taxed under PAYE, or included on the employees’ forms P11D. The employer’s tax liability under the PSA must be paid to HMRC by 19 October following the end of the tax year to which the payment relates.

It should also be noted that whilst the £150 exemption is mirrored for Class 1 NIC purposes, (so that if the limit is not exceeded, no liability arises for the employees), Class 1B NICs at the current rate of 13.8%, will be payable by the employer on benefits-in-kind which are subject to a PSA.

The full cost of staff parties and/or events will be disallowed for tax if it is found that the entertainment of staff is in fact incidental to that of entertaining customers.

VAT-registered businesses can claim back input VAT on the costs, but this may be restricted where this includes entertaining customers.

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Reporting expenses and benefits for 2018/19

Where employees were provided with taxable benefits and expenses in 2018/19, these must be notified to HMRC.

The reporting requirements depend on whether the benefits were payrolled or not.

Benefits not payrolled

Taxable benefits that were not payrolled in 2018/19 must be reported to HMRC on form P11D. There is no need to include benefits covered by an exemption (although take care where provision is made via an optional remuneration arrangement (OpRA)) or those included within a PAYE Settlement Agreement. Paid and reimbursed expenses can be ignored to the extent that they would be deductible if the employee met cost, as these fall within the statutory exemption for paid and reimbursed expenses.

The value that must be reported on the P11D depends on whether the benefit is provided via an OpRA, such as a salary sacrifice scheme. Where the benefit is provided other than via an OpRA, the taxable amount is the cash equivalent value. Where specific rules apply to determine the cash equivalent value for a particular benefit, such as those applying to company cars, employment-related loans, living accommodation, etc., those rules should be used. Where there is no specific rule, the general rule – cost to the employer less any amount made good by the employee – applies.

Where provision is made via an OpRA, and the benefit is not one to which the alternative valuation rules do not apply, namely:

  • payments into pension schemes
  • employer provided pension advice
  • childcare vouchers, workplace nurseries and directly contracted employer-provided childcare
  • bicycles and cycling safety equipment, including cycle to work schemes
  • low emission cars (Co2 emissions 75g/km or less)

the taxable amount is the relevant amount. This is the higher of the cash equivalent under the usual rules and the salary foregone or cash alternative offered. The taxable amount is the cash equivalent value where the benefit falls outside the alternative valuation rules.

Payrolled benefits

Payrolled benefits should not be included on the P11D but must be taken into account in calculating the Class 1A National Insurance liability on form P11D(b).

P11D(b)

Form P11D(b) must be filed regardless of whether benefits are payrolled or notified to HMRC on form P11D. The P11D(b) is the Class 1A return, as well as the employer’s declaration that all required P11Ds have been submitted.

Paper or online

There are various ways in which forms P11D and P11D(b) can be filed. The simplest is to use HMRC’s online end of year expenses and benefits service or HMRC’s PAYE Online for employers service. Forms can also be filed using commercial software packages.

There is no requirement to file P11Ds and P11D(b)s online – paper forms can be filed if preferred.

Deadline

Regardless of the submission methods, forms P11D and P11D(b) for 2018/19 must reach HMRC by 6 July 2019. Employees must be given a copy of their P11D (or details of the information contained therein) by the same date. Details of payrolled benefits must be notified to employees by the earlier date of 31 May 2019.

Class 1A National Insurance must be paid by 22 July where paid electronically, or by 19 July where payment is made by cheque.

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Simplified deductions where your business is based at home

Many small businesses are run from home. Where a business is run from home, household costs will be incurred which are attributable to the business. These may include additional costs of gas and electricity to provide heat and light to the home office or workshop and to power the computer or equipment, the costs of additional cleaning, and suchlike.

Expenses which are wholly and exclusively incurred for the purposes of the business can be deducted in working out the profits of the business. This will inevitably involve a certain amount of record keeping in order to identify what those expenses are. As far as household bills are concerned, it is permissible to deduct a proportion of the total household expenses in computing the business profits, with the apportionment being made on a ‘just and reasonable’ basis.

Claim simplified expenses instead

Businesses can save themselves the hassle of working out the proportion of household costs that relate to the business by instead using HMRC’s simplified expenses to claim a deduction for the costs of working from home. The deduction is a set amount per month, depending on the number of hours worked at home on the business each month. The hours include not only hours worked by the proprietor, but also hours worked in the home by any staff.

The monthly deduction is shown in the table below.

Hours of business use per month Monthly flat rate deduction
25 to 50 £10
51 to 100 £18
101 or more £26

The simplified expenses do not cover telephone and internet costs, in respect of which a separate deduction can be claimed.

Example

Luke is self-employed as a graphic designer. He runs his business from his house.

He normally works at home for 120 hours a month, except in August when he works 20 hours and December when he works 60 hours. He is able to claim a deduction for the year of £288 (being 10 months @ £26, one month @ £10 and one month @ £18).

Actual or simplified?

While claiming a deduction based on simplified expenses is a lot less hassle, it may not necessarily give the greatest deduction. Where the trader thinks the time spent working out a deduction based on actual costs is worthwhile, only they can decide.

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Working from home – claim tax relief for your expenses

An increasing number of employees work from home some or all of the time. Where they do so, they may be able to claim tax relief for the costs that they incur from working at home, regardless of whether their employer meets those costs.

Nature of expenses

Where an employee works from home, they can claim tax relief for the extra costs that are incurred as a result of working from home. This may include the cost of phone calls from the landline, the costs of electricity and gas to heat and light the workspace, power the computer, and the cost of cleaning the workspace.

Wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred

The rules on claiming tax relief for employment are strict; relief is only available for those expenses incurred wholly, exclusively and necessarily in the performance of the duties of the employment. This is difficult test to meet.

Mixed business and private use

Tax relief is not available for expenses that have both a work and a private element. This may prevent a deduction for, say, the cost of broadband which is used for both by the family for private use and also for work use. Likewise, no deduction for rent would be permitted unless a room was used exclusively for work, in which case a proportionate amount could be claimed.

Voluntarily working at home

To be allowed to claim tax relief for additional expenses incurred as a result of working from home, the employee must be required to work from home, rather than doing so voluntarily. Under the letter of the law, the employee should be working at home because the duties of the employment demand it, rather than as a matter of personal choice. However, from a practical perspective, if the employee’s contract requires that the employee works from home, either part time or on specified days or when required to do by the needs of the job, tax relief should be forthcoming.

Employer meets the expenses

Many employees will be able to reclaim the additional costs of working from home from their employer. If the expenses are such that the employee would be eligible for tax relief, the tax exemption for paid and reimbursed expenses comes into play and the employer and employee can both ignore the reimbursement for tax purposes – there is no tax to pay and nothing to report.

Keep it simple To avoid the need to keep records and work out the additional costs of working from home, employers can pay a tax-free allowance of £4 per week (£18 per month) to employees who work from home. The amount is the same regardless of whether the employee works at home one day per week or five days a week. It may be possible to pay a higher amount if this is agreed with HMRC.

Employee Benefits, Tax free

More than 25 million working days are lost annually due to work-related ill health matters, including the two leading causes of workplace absence, namely back injuries and stress, depression or anxiety. There are however, several areas where employers can use tax breaks and exemptions to help promote health and fitness at work.

Gym facilities and memberships

In-house gym facilities may be offered to employees at a convenient location to fit in around work and there will be no tax or NIC liability arising if the following conditions are satisfied:

  • the facilities must be available for use by all employees, but not to the general public;
  • they must be used mainly by employees, former employees or members of employees’ families and households (employees of any companies grouped together with to provide the facilities also count);
  • the facilities must not be located in a private home, holiday or other overnight accommodation (including any associated sporting facilities); and
  • they must not involve use of a mechanically propelled vehicle (including road vehicles, boats and aircraft).

For employers who cannot practically provide in-house gym facilities, it may be possible to negotiate favourable membership rates with a local gym or leisure centre. Whilst this may lead to a tax liability for employees, the preferential rate can often be up to 20% – 30% cheaper than the normal price, so this is still an attractive offer for employees.  Depending on how the cost of the gym membership is funded, the fees will either be taxed as earnings or as a taxable benefit-in-kind. So, for example, if an employer gives the employee additional salary to pay for their gym membership, the money is taxed as earnings through PAYE. If the employer pays the gym membership direct, a taxable benefit-in-kind arises on the employee and should be reported to HMRC on form P11D, or through the payroll.

Where an employer pays for a gym membership and the employee contributes towards the cost from their net pay (after tax and NICs), this is referred to as ‘making good’. The amount of the benefit (cost of gym membership) is reduced by the amount of the contribution.

Health-screening, check-ups and recommended treatments

A tax and NIC-free exemption allows employers to fund one health-screening assessment and/or one medical check-up per year per employee.

Subject to an annual cap of £500 per employee, employer expenditure on medical treatments recommended by employer-arranged occupational health services may be exempt for tax and NICs. ‘Medical treatment’ means all procedures for diagnosing or treating any physical or mental illness, infirmity or defect. Broadly, in order for the exemption to apply, the employee must have either:

  • been assessed by a health care professional as unfit for work (or will be unfit for work) because of injury or ill health for at least 28 consecutive days;
  • been absent from work because of injury or ill health for at least 28 consecutive days.

Employer-funded eye, eyesight test, and ‘special corrective appliances’ (i.e. glasses or contact lenses) may also be exempt for ta and NICs, providing certain conditions are satisfied.

Many employees struggle to fit physical activity into their busy working days but research shows that being active for just one hour can offset the potential harm of being inactive. As fitness and health issues become increasingly popular, anything an employer can do to help is likely to be most welcomed by employees.

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Don’t pay for expenses that your employer should be paying for – here’s how and when to claim a tax deduction.

Employees – claim a tax deduction for expenses

Employees often incur expenses in doing their job – this may be the cost of a train ticket or petrol to visit a supplier, or purchasing stationery or small tools which are used in their job. Employers will frequently reimburse the employee for any expenses that they incur, but where such a reimbursement is not forthcoming, the employee may be able to claim a tax relief.

The test

Employment expenses are deductible only if they are incurred ‘wholly, exclusively and necessarily in the performance of the duties of the employment’. The test is a harsh test to meet; the ‘necessary’ condition means that ‘each and every’ jobholder would be required to incur the expense. Consequently, there is no relief if the expense is not ‘necessary’ and the employee chooses to incur it (even if the ‘wholly and exclusively’ parts of the test are met). The rules for travel expenses are different, but broadly operate to allow relief for ‘business travel’.

In the performance of the job v putting the employee in a position to do the job

A distinction is drawn between expenses that are incurred in actually performing the job and those which are incurred in putting the employee in the position to do the job. Expenses incurred in travelling from the office to a meeting with a supplier and back to the office are incurred in performing the job. By contrast, childcare costs or home to work travel are incurred to put the employee in a position to do the job. Relief is available only for expenses incurred as part of the job, and not for those which incurred, albeit arguably necessarily, to enable the employee to do the job.

Expenses for which relief may be claimed

A deduction can be claimed for any expense that meets the ‘wholly, exclusively and necessarily’ test. Examples include professional fees and subscriptions, travel and subsistence costs, additional costs of working from home, cost of repairing tools or specialist clothing, phone calls, etc.

Where the expense is reimbursed by the employer, a deduction cannot be claimed as well; however, the amount reimbursed is not taxable and is ignored for tax purposes.

Using your own car

Where an employee uses his or her own car for business travel, the employer can pay tax-free mileage payments up to the approved rates. For cars and vans, this is 45p per mile for the first 10,000 miles in the tax year and 25p per mile for any subsequent miles.

If the employer does not pay mileage allowances or pay less than the approved amount, the employee can claim tax relief for the difference between the approved amount and the amount paid by the employer.

Flat rate expenses

Employers in certain industries are able to claim a flat rate deduction for certain expenses in line with rates published by HMRC (see www.gov.uk/guidance/job-expenses-for-uniforms-work-clothing-and-tools#claim-table). Although claiming the flat rate removes the need to keep records of actual costs, employees can claim a deduction based on actual costs where this is more beneficial.

How to claim There are different ways to make a claim depending on your circumstances. Claims can be made online using HMRC’s online service, by post on form P87, by phone or, where a self-assessment return is completed, via the self-assessment return.

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