Mike Tombs's Blog

This blog provides information about tax, accounting and other issues affecting small owner-managed businesses in the UK. It is intended as a general source of information but you should not assume that everything applies to your specific circumstances. We are always happy to discuss providing tailor-made solutions to suit your individul needs. Visit www.tlaservices.co.uk to sign up for our free monthly Tax Tips and News newsletter.

Monthly Archives: May 2017

HMRC launch consultation on employee expenses

As confirmed the Spring Budget 2017, HMRC have launched a consultation on the use of the income tax relief for employees’ business expenses, including those that are not reimbursed by their employer. The main objectives of the consultation, which will run until 12 June 2017, are to understand:

  • if the current rules or their administration can be clearer and simpler;
  • whether the tax rules for expenses are fit for purpose in the modern economy; and
  • why the cost to the exchequer of the tax relief for expenses which are not reimbursed has increased.

Expenses form an integral part of the tax system as tax relief can be claimed on eligible expenses. However, the cost of providing this relief is significant – HMRC state that the tax relief on expenses which employers do not reimburse and employees then claim from HMRC costs the Exchequer £800m per year, and there has been a 25% increase in claims between 2009-10 and 2014-15.

The current rules

It is important that employees and employers are both clear on what tax reliefs employees are entitled to claim. Broadly, tax relief is available when expenses are incurred ‘wholly, exclusively and necessarily in the performance of the duties of the employment’. Expenses which put an employee in a position to do their job (such as the cost of ordinary commuting) are not eligible for tax relief. There are also provisions for relief for specific expenses, such as professional fees and subscriptions, and travel and subsistence.

When employers pay for or reimburse expenses that are eligible for tax relief, the payment is not taxed. For example, if an employee pays for a train ticket to travel from their permanent office to another office for a business meeting, and their employer reimburses the cost of the train ticket, the reimbursement is not liable to income tax or National Insurance contributions. However, if an employer pays a round sum cash allowance to cover potential expenses, such payments will be taxable in full.

Simplified expenses

The administration of the tax relief for expenses paid for or reimbursed by the employer was simplified from April 2016 with the introduction of an exemption for paid or reimbursed expenses. Under this exemption, qualifying expenses can be paid by employers free of tax without the need for an employer to apply to HMRC for a dispensation. These expenses do not need to be returned to HMRC at the end of the tax year on form P11D, and employees no longer need to make a claim to HMRC for a corresponding tax relief.

When employers do not reimburse expenses that employees have incurred, the employee can deduct them from his taxable income and subsequently claim tax relief at his marginal tax rate on costs incurred.

For some expenses which are not reimbursed, employees can claim a flat rate expense allowance. HMRC have agreed allowances based on the amount typically spent each year by employees in a wide range of industries and occupations to remove the burden for employers and employees of calculating a large number of small claims and retaining evidence for these. For example, employees who need to pay for the cost of repairing and maintaining tools and specialist clothing for work can apply for tax relief in this way.

The future

Although the consultation document states that the government has no plans to remove the relief on employee expenses, changes to current procedures may be expected in the future.

VAT Flat rate scheme: changes take effect

The VAT flat rate scheme (FRS) is used by many small businesses to help simplify their VAT reporting obligations. Businesses could often gain a cash advantage from using the scheme, but this advantage has been significantly curtailed from 1 April 2017, particularly in relation to service-related businesses. Whilst the FRS continues to operate, many businesses will no longer find it economical to use.

Broadly, the FRS is a simplified VAT accounting scheme for small businesses, which allows users to calculate VAT using a flat rate percentage by reference to their particular trade sector. When using the FRS, the business ignores VAT incurred on purchases when reporting VAT payable, with the exception of capital items which cost £2,000 or more. If the business incurs few expenses, and it operates in a sector with a relatively low FRS percentage, it will pay out less VAT to HMRC under the FRS than it would outside the scheme. Historically, many businesses have registered for VAT voluntarily before their turnover reached the VAT registration threshold, so they could make use of the cash advantage offered under the FRS.

Common percentages used by service-related businesses in recent years include:

  • Accountancy and legal services 14.5%
  • Computer or IT consultancy 14.5%
  • Estate agents and property management 12%
  • Management consultancy 14%
  • Business services not listed elsewhere 12%

However, from 1 April 2017 a new 16.5% FRS rate applies for businesses with limited costs (see below). Since the rate of 16.5% of gross turnover equates to 19.8% of the net, the result is that there will be almost no credit for VAT incurred on purchases. Many businesses, particularly in the trade sectors listed above, are likely to see a significant rise is VAT payments.

A ‘limited cost’ business is defined as one whose VAT inclusive expenditure on goods is either:

  • less than 2% of their VAT inclusive turnover in a prescribed accounting period;
  • greater than 2% of their VAT inclusive turnover but less than £1,000 per annum if the prescribed accounting period is one year (if it is not one year, the figure is the relevant proportion of £1,000).

Goods, for the purposes of this measure, must be used exclusively for the purpose of the business but exclude the following items:

  • capital expenditure goods;
  • food or drink for consumption by the flat rate business or its employees;
  • vehicles, vehicle parts and fuel (except where the business is one that carries out transport services – for example a taxi business – and uses its own or a leased vehicle to carry out those services).

(These exclusions are part of the test to prevent traders buying either low value everyday items or one off purchases in order to inflate their costs beyond 2%.)

Practical Tip

Businesses who are trading under the VAT threshold (£85,000 from 1 April 2017) may consider deregistering from VAT. Businesses who are trading over that threshold may wish to withdraw from the FRS.

Tax-free savings update

Although interest rates for savings generally remain low, there are still a few tax-efficient savings opportunities on offer, with increased savings thresholds taking effect from 6 April 2018.

Individual Savings Accounts

Broadly, cash ISAs are available to investors aged 16 and over, who are resident in the UK, and stocks and shares ISAs are available to UK-resident individuals aged 18 and over. The maximum annual investment limit has been raised to £20,000 from April 2017, which means that a couple can now invest up to a sizeable £40,000 for 2017/18. Interest paid on the investment will be tax-free for both income and capital gains tax.

Junior ISAs operate along similar lines to ‘adult’ ISAs. The maximum investment limit for 2017/18 into Junior ISA accounts is £4,128, so there is scope for parents and grandparents to make tax-free savings investments on behalf of their children/grandchildren. Since it is also now possible for children to hold both Junior ISA and Child Trust Fund (CTF) accounts, parents are offered increased flexibility to look for higher-yielding products.

It might be worth noting that the Government has stated its intention to make regulations so that the ISA savings of deceased individuals can continue to benefit from income tax and capital gains tax advantages, where those savings are retained in an ISA. Although the start date for this change has yet to be confirmed, it should be borne in mind when thinking about ISA investments.

Help-to-buy ISAs continue to be available to assist first-time buyers save a deposit to purchase their first home. Broadly, up to £200 a month can be saved in the ISA (along with an initial deposit of £1,000) and, provided certain conditions are met, the government will provide a 25% boost to the savings up to a maximum of £3,000 per person. The maximum that can be saved in the ISA is £12,000. Taking into account the government bonus, a couple buying together could save up to £30,000 tax-free towards the purchase of their first home. It will take around four and a half years to achieve this level of savings under the scheme.

NS&I Premium Bonds

Although National Savings and Investments (NS&I) Premium Bonds cannot really be called an investment, any returns by way of ‘winnings’ will be tax-free. The odds on winning a prize in any one month currently stand at 30,000 to one. The number of monthly £100,000 prizes has been reduced from five to two and, for the £50,000 prizes, from 12 to just five. The prize fund rate was 1.25% until April 2017, but is reduced to 1.15% from May 2017. This rate represents the amount a typical saver will receive with average luck over a year – although many will receive far less than this. However, despite the reduction in prizes and odds, with more than £52 billion currently invested, premium bonds remain one of Britain’s favourite ways to save in a tax-efficient way.

Tax on savings income

The Personal Savings Allowance (PSA), which was introduced from 6 April 2016, remains at £1,000 for basic rate taxpayers and £500 for higher rate taxpayers, for 2017/18. Running alongside the PSA is the starting rate for savings, which, for 2017/18, remains at 0% on a maximum threshold of £5,000. The 0% band is restricted by non- savings taxable income so that none of the band will be available if that income is above the personal allowance (and blind person’s allowance if claimed) plus the £5,000 starting rate. The two allowances work together and are dependent on total taxable income.

In most cases, the annual personal allowance and PSA will cover any tax liability arising on interest earned. Therefore, when choosing a savings plan, the major consideration is likely to be the interest rate on offer and potential return on the investment, rather than the tax-free status of the account.