What Can Be Claimed as Business Expenses

Woman Looking At Her Expenses

As a small business owner, keeping track of expenses can feel like a constant juggling act. From rent to office supplies, the bills just keep piling up. But here's the good news – many of those expenses can actually be deducted from your taxes, putting more money back into your pocket.

Understanding what qualifies as a legitimate business expense is crucial. You don't want to miss out on valuable deductions, but you also need to avoid claiming personal expenses as business costs.

This guide is here to help you navigate the sometimes confusing world of business expense claims. We'll break down the different types of deductible expenses, from the obvious ones like employee salaries to the easily overlooked costs like mileage and home office expenses.

Key takeaways

  • Clearly distinguish between business and personal expenses, using a dedicated business credit card to simplify the process.
  • Claim all eligible deductions, including often-overlooked costs like home office expenses and business mileage.
  • Maintain meticulous records and documentation to support your expense claims.
  • Consider working with a qualified accountant to ensure you're optimising your tax savings while avoiding potential issues.

Understanding business expenses

Business expenses are the costs incurred in running a company. These expenses are essential for keeping operations running smoothly and enabling a business to generate revenue. For small businesses, understanding and properly managing expenses is critical for financial stability and growth.

Types of business expenses

There are some essential expenses you'll likely encounter on a regular basis as a small business owner. These generally fall into two main categories, operating expenses and capital expenses. 

Operating expenses

  • Rent or mortgage payments for office or retail space
  • Utilities (electricity, water, gas)
  • Payroll and employee benefits
  • Office supplies and equipment
  • Marketing and advertising costs
  • Professional fees (legal, accounting, consulting)
  • Insurance premiums
  • Travel and transportation expenses

Capital expenses

  • Purchase of major assets (buildings, machinery, vehicles)
  • Significant renovations or improvements
  • Large equipment acquisitions

Distinguishing personal from business expenses

It’s important to keep your personal and business expenses completely separate. This is because HMRC is very strict about what you can and can’t claim as a business expense. If personal expenses are processed as business expenses, this could lead to penalties and fines. On top of this, it can also make it tricky to keep on top of your bookkeeping. 

This is where a dedicated business credit card can be useful. By keeping your business spending on a separate card, it’s easier to track what you’re spending for your business. It also makes things tidier for when you need to review your finances or show records to HMRC.

Eligible deductions: what can you claim?

You’ll be glad to know that there are quite a few expenses you can claim as deductions to lower your taxable income. But it’s important to understand the guidelines and documentation required to make sure you’re doing it all by the book. 

Some of the key expenses you can deduct from your taxable income include:

  • Office supplies and equipment - This covers things like pens, paper, computers, printers, etc.
  • Travel expenses - Costs for business-related travel, such as train tickets and hotel stays.
  • Professional development - Fees for courses, conferences, or memberships that help you improve your skills.
  • Legal and accounting fees - Payments to your accountant, lawyer, or other professional service providers.
  • Utility bills - Things like electricity, gas, water, and internet that are essential for running your business.
  • Insurance premiums - Covers policies like liability, property, and even health insurance for your employees.
  • Marketing and advertising - Spending on promoting your products or services, such as website hosting, brochures, or social media ads.

The general rule is that if an expense is "wholly and exclusively" for the purposes of your business, then you can likely claim it as a deduction.

Commonly overlooked business expenses

There are some costs that are often overlooked or underestimated. However, many of these "hidden" expenses can actually be legitimately deducted, so it's worth taking a closer look.

Home office expenses

If you use a portion of your home exclusively for your business, you may be able to claim a deduction for the associated costs. This could include a percentage of your rent or mortgage payments, utility bills, and even the cost of office equipment and supplies. The key is to have a dedicated space that is used solely for your business activities.

Business-related meals and entertainment

While you can't claim the full cost of a fancy client dinner, you may be able to deduct a portion of the expense. The same goes for taking a prospective customer out for coffee or treating your employees to a team-building activity. As long as the primary purpose is related to your business, you can likely claim a deduction.

Mileage costs

Anytime you use your personal vehicle for business-related travel, such as visiting clients, attending meetings, or running errands, you can claim a mileage deduction. HMRC allows you to deduct a set rate per mile, which can really add up if you do a lot of driving for your business.

The key to successfully claiming these less obvious business expenses is to keep meticulous records. This means saving receipts, invoices, and any other documentation that clearly demonstrates the business purpose of the expense. You should also consider keeping a detailed mileage log or diary to track your business-related travel.

Additionally, be prepared to provide a clear explanation of how the expense is directly related to your business operations. HMRC may request this information if they decide to audit your claims.

Documentation and record-keeping: best practices

Maintaining accurate and organised records is essential when it comes to claiming business expenses. This means if HMRC ever audit your claims, you have all the proof you need. By implementing some best practices for record-keeping, you can streamline the process and make sure you’re fully prepared for tax season.

How to organise and store documentation 

There are a few key things you need to do: 

  • Keep all receipts, invoices, and other financial records in a dedicated filing system, either physical or digital.
  • Sort and categorise your expenses by type (e.g., office supplies, travel, utilities) to make them easier to locate and reference.
  • Use a consistent naming and filing convention, such as date, supplier, and expense type, to keep everything well-structured.
  • Store your documents in a secure location, whether that's a physical filing cabinet or a password-protected cloud storage solution.
  • Regularly back up your digital records to ensure you don't lose any important information.

Leveraging digital tools for record-keeping

There are lots of tools and software that can streamline your expense tracking and record-keeping processes:

  • Accounting software (e.g., QuickBooks, Xero) that integrates with your business bank accounts or credit card to automatically categorise and record transactions.
  • Expense tracking apps (e.g., Expensify, Concur) that allow you to snap photos of receipts and store them electronically.
  • Cloud-based document storage platforms (e.g., Google Drive, Dropbox) for securely storing and accessing your expense-related files.
  • Dedicated expense management platforms that handle everything from receipt capture to report generation.

Digital solutions can reduce the time and effort required to maintain accurate records, while also ensuring your documentation is accessible, organised, and always at your fingertips.

Tax implications of business expense claims

The main benefit of claiming business expenses is of course that they can be deducted from your total taxable income. This means the amount of money you owe in taxes is reduced, leaving you with more resources to reinvest in your business or to keep as profit. 

Let's say your business has a total annual revenue of £200,000 and your allowable business expenses add up to £150,000. Your taxable profit would be £50,000 (£200,000 - £150,000). If your business is subject to a 19% corporate tax rate, your tax liability would be £9,500 (£50,000 x 19%).

However, if you had not claimed those £150,000 in business expenses, your taxable profit would have been £200,000, and your tax bill would have been £38,000 (£200,000 x 19%). That's a significant difference of £28,500 in tax savings.

While this can be valuable for your business, it’s important to be mindful of the potential implications and maintain compliance with HMRC regulations. A few key considerations: 

  • Ensure you only claim expenses that are genuinely for business purposes, as HMRC closely scrutinises any personal expenses claimed as deductions.
  • Keep meticulous records and documentation to support your expense claims, as you may be required to provide this information during a tax audit.
  • Be aware of any changes to tax laws or guidelines that could affect the deductibility of certain expenses, and stay up-to-date by consulting with a qualified accountant.
  • Avoid making exaggerated or unsupported expense claims, as this could lead to penalties, fines, and even legal consequences.

By taking the time to understand the tax implications of your business expense claims and maintaining strict compliance with HMRC requirements, you can reap the financial benefits while avoiding any potential issues down the line.

Strategies for maximising business expense deductions

By implementing strategic approaches and seeking professional guidance, you can optimise your expense claims while ensuring compliance with HMRC regulations.

Here are some practical tips to help you maximise your business expense deductions:

  • Review expenses regularly: Don't wait until the last minute to track your expenses. Set aside time each month or quarter to review your records and identify any eligible deductions you may have overlooked.
  • Time purchases strategically: If possible, time the purchase of major business assets or expenses towards the end of your tax year. This can allow you to claim the deduction in the current tax year, potentially reducing your taxable income.
  • Leverage the annual investment allowance: The UK's annual investment allowance currently stands at £1 million, allowing you to deduct the full cost of qualifying capital expenditures in the year of purchase.
  • Claim the correct percentage for mixed-use expenses: If an expense, such as your home internet or vehicle usage, is for both personal and business purposes, be sure to claim the appropriate business-use percentage to maximise your deduction.
  • Explore enhanced capital allowances: Certain energy-efficient or environmentally friendly business investments may qualify for enhanced capital allowances, providing additional tax savings.

Seeking professional advice

While the strategies above can help you maximise your business expense deductions, it's also advisable to consult with a qualified accountant or tax professional. A tax professional can help you:

  • Identify all eligible deductions for your business
  • Ensure you're properly documenting and substantiating your expense claims
  • Advise on the optimal timing of expenses to maximise tax benefits
  • Stay up-to-date with any changes in tax laws or guidelines that may affect your deductions
  • Represent you in the event of a tax audit or inquiry by HMRC

By working closely with a tax expert, you can have peace of mind knowing that you're taking full advantage of all the deductions available to your small business while staying firmly within the boundaries of UK tax laws.

How do I claim a business expense?

Let’s take a look at the steps to make a claim. 

  1. Identify eligible expenses: The first step is to review the categories that HMRC allows you to deduct from, that we looked at earlier. Remember, to make sure you’re differentiating business expenses from personal costs that cannot be claimed. 
  2. Gather documentation: For each expense you plan to claim, you’ll need to have the documentation to support it, e.g. receipts, invoices, contracts, etc. 
  3. Calculate the deductible amount: You’ll need to determine the amount that can be deducted. This might involve allocating a percentage for mixed-use expenses (e.g. home office or vehicle) or prorating annual expenses (e.g. rent). This is where a tax professional can come in handy to guide you on proper calculation methods. 
  4. Report expenses on your tax return: When filing your annual tax return, you’ll need to report your eligible business expenses. This is normally done on the self-employment or business income section of your tax return. 
  5. Keep records: As we’ve discussed, it’s critical to keep detailed records in case HMRC requests more information or conducts an audit. 

The bottom line

Properly managing and claiming your eligible business expenses can have a significant impact on your bottom line and overall tax liability. By following best practices for expense tracking, documentation, and claiming deductions, you can maximise your tax savings while staying compliant with HMRC regulations.

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between a business expense and a capital allowance?

Business expenses are day-to-day costs you can fully deduct from your profits. Capital allowances are for larger assets, which you deduct over time as the asset depreciates.

What are simplified expenses?

Simplified expenses are flat-rate deductions you can use instead of tracking actual business costs for things like your home or vehicle. This saves time, but the amounts may not be as generous.

What are tax write-offs for small businesses?

Tax write-offs are expenses you can deduct from your taxable income to reduce your tax bill. Common examples include office supplies, insurance, utilities, and vehicle costs.

This does not constitute financial or tax advice. Please consult an accountant or financial advisor if you would like more information. 

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