Making a meal of it

A number of clients have asked us if they can get tax relief on the costs of meals they have incurred whilst conducting their business.  This is a grey area and each case needs to be considered on its own merits.  I now detail the guidance that is available to help you decide.  If you want to discuss further then please call paul on 0161 962 1855

Initial standpoint
The cost of food, drink and accommodation is not in general an expense incurred wholly and exclusively for business purposes, since everyone must eat in order to live. They are (either wholly or partly) normal costs of living incurred by all and not as a result of trading and they cannot be apportioned to allow extra costs incurred from the necessity of lunching away from home or the place of business. The attempt to apportion betraying the essential duality of purpose.

However by HM Revenue and Customs ( i.e the Tax Office ) concession
In calculating the profits of a trade, a deduction is allowed for any reasonable expenses incurred on food or drink ( e.g. breakfast, lunch and evening meals ) for consumption by the trader at a place to which the trader travels in the course of carrying on the trade, or while travelling to a place in the course of carrying on the trade, if

  • at the time the expenses are incurred on the food or drink, the trade is by its nature itinerant, or
  • the trader does not travel to the place more than occasionally in the course of carrying on the trade and either—

the travel in connection with which the expenses are incurred on the food or drink is undertaken otherwise than as part of the trader’s normal pattern of travel in the course of carrying on the trade, or

the trader does not have such a normal pattern of travel.”.

Our thoughts – determining whether business travel has occurred first!

It is first necessary to determine if business travel has occurred.  I trust you can appreciate that any such claims will only succeed based on the facts of each case and we and you cannot, therefore. be 100% sure each claim will be successful. This is an area where the Tax Office do challenge claims.  It is often necessary to rely on case law to help decide the outcome of any claims.  Relevant cases are:-

Horton v Young [1971] 47TC60

A subcontracting bricklayer assessed as self employed claimed travelling from work to site as an expense.  The bricklayers tools were kept at home and his books were written up at home.  In addition, the bricklayer held meetings at his house with contractors to establish fees.  The travel included daily travel to building sites, picking up other bricklayers and inter-site travel.  The daily travel varied between 5 and 55 miles.  Each project would take no more than three weeks.  The bricklayer claimed the whole expense, the Revenue wanted to only allow the inter-site travel.  It was held that whole expense was allowable as it satisfied the wholly and exclusively rule.

Newsom v Robertson [1952] 33TC452

The taxpayer carried out professional work both in their office and at their home did not change the essential private nature of the journey between the two. Notwithstanding that the barrister in Newsom undertook significant work at home, that was no more the base of his operations than was the train that took him between home and chambers.

Powell v Jackman [2004]

Powell operated a milk round under a franchise agreement with Unigate. Every day he travelled from his home to a depot owned by Unigate to collect his milk float and the milk which he delivered on his designated round. There were no office facilities for franchisees at the depot. Unigate would object if a franchisee wished to do all his office work at the depot.Powell claimed to deduct from the profits of his trade the expenditure which he incurred in travelling every day from his home to the depot. The Revenue refused the claim.

Family or owner-managed companies

Travelling expenses are allowed where they cover the full cost of necessary travel in the performance of the duties, and the full cost of travel to/from a place where necessary duties are performed. For this purpose, ‘in the performance of the duties’ covers travel:

  • to/from a place the employee has to attend; or
  • to carry out duties at a ‘temporary workplace’; or
  • after duties have commenced (necessary ‘on-the-job’ travel).

A ‘temporary workplace’ is a workplace where the employee goes only to perform a task of limited duration or other temporary purpose. This includes attendance for a continuous period likely to last not more than 24 months or where less than 40% of working time is spent. It does not include a permanent workplace under a fixed term appointment of less than 24 months.

A journey which is really ‘ordinary commuting’ cannot be made a business journey just by arranging a business appointment on route. The test is necessity to attend the particular place, rather than personal convenience of attending.

If you have you own limited company – Daily Benchmark Scale Rates are available for costs of meals incurred on business travel

The Tax Office has introduced an advisory system of benchmark scale rates which employers can use to make subsistence payments to employees who incur allowable business travel expenses free of tax and National Insurance contributions.

The advisory system only covers benchmark scale rates for day subsistence payments.

Description Amount (up to)

Breakfast rate                          £5

One meal (5 hour) rate             £5

Two meal (10 hour) rate          £10

Late evening meal rate £15

Breakfast rate – The rate may be paid where an employee leaves home earlier than usual and before 6.00 am and incurs a cost on breakfast taken away from his home after the qualifying journey has started. If an employee usually leaves before 6.00 am the breakfast rate does not apply.

Late evening meal rate – The rate may be paid where the employee has to work later than usual, finishes work after 8.00 pm having worked his normal day and has to buy a meal before the qualifying journey ends which he would usually have at home.

The breakfast and late evening meal rates are for use in exceptional circumstances only and are not intended for employees with regular early or late work patterns (see examples at EIM05232).

One meal (5 hour) rate – The rate may be paid where the employee has been undertaking qualifying travel for a period of at least 5 hours and has incurred the cost of a meal.

Two meal (10 hour) rate – The rate may be paid where the employee has been undertaking qualifying travel for a period of at least 10 hours and has incurred the cost of a meal or meals.

Benchmark scale rate payments must be limited to three meal rates on one day or 24 hour period. A meal is defined as a combination of food and drink and would take a normal dictionary meaning. Where employees are required to start early or finish late on a regular basis, the over 5 hour and 10 hour rate, whichever is applicable, can be paid provided that all the other qualifying rules are satisfied.

Qualifying conditions – Benchmark scale rates must only be used where all the qualifying conditions are met. The qualifying conditions are:

the travel must be in the performance of an employee’s duties or to a temporary place of work

the employee should be absent from his normal place of work or home for a continuous period in excess of five hours or ten hours

the employee should have incurred a cost on a meal (food and drink) after starting the journey

Overnight subsistence rate – A benchmark rate has not been set for overnight subsistence. It will still be necessary to agree a rate, if applicable, with the employer.

Staying with friends and family rate – A benchmark rate has not been set for a scale rate payment for staying with friends and family. Furthermore, HMRC no longer accepts that a scale rate payment for this purpose should be agreed with an employer as part of a dispensation. The travel rules still apply to actual costs of subsistence incurred while staying with friends and family

Finally, employees can make additional tax free claims for Personal Incidental Expenses re overnight night stays

Permitted amount per night
In UK Overseas
£5 10

The allowance applies to employees’ minor personal expenditure. The above figures represent the maximum daily amounts whilst on business-related activities. If exceeded the whole amount provided is taxable.

If you need any more help, please call paul on 0161 962 1855

Many thanks

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