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How to claim business expenses

By Crunch - June 17, 2021

This is a guest blog article written by our friends at Crunch. All views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of that of 123 Reg. Be sure to seek advice from a qualified expert if you need financial advice.

Business expenses can be a confusing area of self-employment. The diversity of objects and services you can claim makes it tricky to determine what you can claim and what you can’t.

Allowable expenses can range from lunches, computers, petrol, train tickets, and uniforms, and we’ve not even scratched the surface. With all that in mind, it can feel a little daunting if you’re new to the expenses process: how do you know you’re claiming the right ones? Are you claiming them correctly, and are you missing out on any that could’ve saved you some money on your next tax bill?

Well, with a little bit of guidance, you can make claiming your expenses as simple as your A-B-C’s, whether you’re a sole trader or a limited company.

What kind of things can you claim as a business expense?

Before we get to the “how”, let’s talk about the “what”. Knowing what constitutes an allowable business expense is the first step toward mastering this potentially fiddly job.

The complete list of what you can and can’t claim as an allowable business expense is pretty long and detailed, as you might expect from anything to do with HMRC! But there’s an easy rule of thumb to keep in mind: can you prove that the purchase in question was made “wholly and exclusively” for business use?

If you’re an electrician, you might need to purchase certain tools and equipment, like electrical tape or wire strippers. These would both be considered allowable business expenses in the eyes of HMRC, as they were purchased solely for business purposes. If you decide to buy a new washing machine, however, you’d have a hard time proving it was purely for the benefit of your business.

Other examples of the kind of purchases you could be claiming include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Travel costs (i.e. train tickets)
  • Business mileage
  • Telephone and broadband costs
  • Computers and laptops
  • Office equipment (if you work from home)
  • Charitable donations.

For a complete rundown of what you can claim as an allowable business expense, check out our two comprehensive guides on the subject: one for limited companies, and one for sole traders.

How to claim expenses as a limited company

If you’re running a limited company, you can deduct any business costs from your profits before tax, and you’ll need to report any item you make personal use of as a company benefit.

You can either pay for your company’s expenses directly from the company business bank account or as a ‘reimbursed expense’ if you pay for it personally. It’s important to remember to keep an accurate record any time you reimburse yourself from the company funds.

If you run a small business, your employees can also claim expenses, so it’s good practice to have a company expense form,established policies (i.e. how much employees are allowed to spend and in what situations), and to collect and file all the expense claims at the end of each month to stay organised.

It’s also important to stress that your employees must keep all receipts to be able to reclaim any expenditures.

Keeping track of your expenses such as business mileage is essential, as without the breakdown of journeys and mileage covered, HMRC could refuse your claim.

We recommend recording all business mileage on a spreadsheet and keeping it up-to-date throughout the year. You can download our Crunch Business Mileage spreadsheet to help you keep track of your mileage expenses.

For other business expenses, the cost of anything that’s necessary for running your business will receive tax relief – the trick is to make sure you meticulously record everything so you don’t lose out.

If you’re not using online accounting software like Crunch, the best way to keep track of what you’ve spent on supplies and other expenses is a simple spreadsheet. The main difference is you don’t have to record each item separately – for example, if you have bought 10 packs of 100 pens at £3 each, you can record it as 1000 pens for £30. It is, however, important to keep the receipts for every purchase you make on behalf of your business. Receipts must be kept for at least five years after the 31st January submission deadline for your Self Assessment. We usually recommend keeping receipts for a period of six years, just to be on the safe side.

Find out more about our Crunch Business Expenses spreadsheets

You can store receipts in a number of ways, and it’s best practice to keep the paper copies somewhere safe, as well as backing them up digitally – with a picture on your phone for example (receipts tend to fade, but digital backups will remain pristine forever). You can manually scan them or use a mobile app like our ‘Snap’ app to record the details.

How to claim expenses as a sole trader

Sole traders claim their expenses a little differently; they can claim their expenses when they file their annual Self Assessment. This is typically filed at the beginning of each calendar year (the deadline is 31st January after the end of each tax year for online filing), although you can file your Self Assessment any time from the end of each tax year on 5th April.

For more information on how to claim sole trader expenses, and which expenses you can claim, don’t forget to download our free guide.

Your accountant can help, too!

When in doubt, ask your accountant! When it comes to your business’ finances, there’s no such thing as a stupid question, so if you’re unsure whether you can claim a certain product or service as a business expense, ask your accountant for some guidance.

If you’re without an accountant, or you’re with one who’ll nickel and dime you for every call and question, don’t forget to check out the accountancy packages we offer for limited companies and sole traders alike. Our paid packages include a team of expert accountants and client managers that are available whenever you need them to answer your questions – and you’ll never be asked to pay extra to speak to them.

Thanks to our exclusive partnership with 123Reg, you can even enjoy a 10% discount on our Crunch limited company packages and a £5 per month discount on our sole trader packages for the first year! All you need to do is quote code CRUNCH123 when you speak to our friendly advisors.

You can find us @TeamCrunch on Twitter, and on Facebook! You can also join our free self-employed community, Crunch Chorus, or join our Crunch Chorus Facebook group.