Tax relief for clothing

There is an overriding rule when claiming a deduction for the cost of clothing as a self-employed individual; the garment must be wholly and exclusively used for the purpose of your business. This is normally the sticking point with clothes – they are generally needed for warmth and decency, so the “exclusively” part of the condition fails.

However, where the purpose of the clothing is to protect the individual or products, and the items are required to be worn in the work environment, the cost will be tax deductible. This would apply to hard-hats and high visibility jackets worn on building sites, or hairnets and latex gloves in a food factory.

The cost of a uniform required to be worn at work can also be deducted. To qualify as a uniform the items must not be part of your everyday wardrobe, and should be easily identified as a uniform by the logos attached to the items, colour or styling.

Performers who need to wear a costume for their act can claim for the cost of the clothes, make-up, wigs, and shoes used in the performance. However, where such clothing could be worn as everyday wear, such as a business suit, the cost will not be deductible.

If you want to claim for the cost of clothes or footwear you wear at work, you must keep a copy of the receipt (a digital picture is fine), and record why you need the item for your business.

Tax refund claims

You don’t have to wait until the end of the tax year to reclaim any tax you have overpaid. It is now quite simple to do this through your online personal tax account (

If you are still employed, your PAYE code should be adjusted so you receive your tax repayment as an addition to your next salary payment. However, young people who have worked during the summer to build up savings for university, may no longer have a job through which the tax repayment can be made.

These students may have had too much tax deducted from their wages, as £987 of their personal allowance is set against their salary each month, but over the whole year they may earn less than the full personal allowance of £11,850.

If the student doesn’t plan to earn a wage during the Christmas break, it would be worthwhile claiming a tax refund. This can be done by applying through their online personal tax account, or by calling HMRC. Be sure to note the date and time when calling HMRC, the name of the HMRC adviser, and who said what.

Tax refund claims can be made for the previous four tax years as well. The earliest year you can claim for is now 2014/15.

Pension lump sum

If you have received a lump sum payment from your pension fund you may have had excess tax deducted from it. This happens, for example, because the pension provider tends to use an emergency PAYE code for the first payment you take from your fund.

If you have had tax incorrectly deducted from a lump sum payment, you will get it back from HMRC if the pension scheme doesn’t refund it. However, there are several different claim forms, depending on the circumstances. We can help you with those forms.

If you do expect to take further pension payments in the same year, the tax repayment should be made when you receive the next pension instalment. However, for this to work, your PAYE code needs to be adjusted.

You can request a new tax code from HMRC through your online personal tax account. Alternatively, you can phone HMRC to ask for the code to be changed.

We can do this on your behalf if you have authorised our firm to act for your personal tax affairs.

SEIS investments

The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) is specifically designed for young companies to raise relatively small amounts of start-up capital. The investors receive 50% income tax relief on the amount they subscribe for new shares, and those shares are exempt from capital gains tax (CGT) when they are sold after three years or more.

There is no minimum amount the company may raise, and no minimum each equity investor is required to commit, but there are maximum limits. The company is permitted to raise up to £150,000 over a three-year period, and the maximum SEIS investment per taxpayer is capped at £100,000 per tax year.

Companies which use SEIS tend to be risky ventures. Investors who subscribe for SEIS shares balance the chance that they will lose their money, with the possibility of making tax-free gains when the company is a success, and they can sell their shares at a large profit.

If you have made an SEIS investment, however small, you should claim the income tax relief due. Don’t miss out this step, as when you sell your shares you must show that you have claimed the income tax relief in order to benefit from the CGT exemption.

Inheritance tax on your home

The total amount of inheritance tax (IHT) paid to the UK Treasury increases by around 10% per year. This is largely due to rising residential property values and is frozen at £325,000 per person. IHT is payable at 40% above the nil band.

If you have children (step or adopted children count) some IHT may be saved by leaving an interest in your family home to one or more of your direct descendants. Such bequests allow the residential nil rate band (RNRB) to come into play, which is currently worth £125,000 per person, increasing to £175,000 from 6 April 2020.

The RNRB is added on to the normal nil band, to provide a total exemption of £500,000 per person (from 6 April 2020). This total exemption can be passed to the surviving spouse on death.

However, there are lots of conditions surrounding the RNRB. The interest in the property must pass to your direct descendant on death and not as a lifetime gift. If your total estate before exemptions and reliefs is worth over £2 million, the RNRB is tapered away by £1 for every £2 over that threshold. It therefore pays to plan to reduce the value of your estate down to £2 million, if that is possible.

Talk to us about planning to reduce the tax which will be payable on your death.

Preparing for Brexit

There are now less than six months until the UK leaves the EU, and we still don’t know the terms of the withdrawal agreement. It is possible that the UK will leave the EU without a deal, which would have wide implications for many UK businesses.

Whichever side of the leave or remain fence you stand, it is now essential that businesses prepare for the potential disruption which Brexit could bring.

The European Commission has published detailed notices to advise businesses of the effects of the UK leaving the EU. These notices cover topics from e-commerce to VAT, and are available in English on

The UK Government’s guidance on how to prepare for a no deal Brexit can be found on This guidance suggests that there may be disruption to supply chains due to congestion at ports.

Some large businesses are starting to stockpile goods and raw materials in the UK, to cover for two to three months of disruption. Certain manufacturers are bringing forward their planned annual shut-down from Summer to Easter 2019, to avoid unplanned stoppages to production lines should parts fail to arrive on time.

Smaller businesses also need to prepare. Examine your supply chain to identify the risks which delays in delivery would pose to your business. How much stock can you hold of materials and finished goods?

Your suppliers won’t want to stockpile goods which they are not certain of selling. If you will need particular products delivered or printed in April or May 2019, get your order in early so the items needed for your business are reserved.

We can help you model the effects on your cashflow and profits which disruption to supply chains could impose on your business, but the time to start planning is now.

VAT annual accounting

The VAT annual accounting scheme seems like a good idea, as you don’t have to submit quarterly VAT returns. Instead you pay your VAT by monthly or quarterly instalments during the year, and make a final balancing payment with a single VAT return for the whole accounting year.

If you choose to pay monthly instalments, these will be set at 1/10th of your previous year’s VAT liability. Nine monthly payments are made (starting in the fourth month of your VAT year), plus a balancing amount for the year paid in the second month of the next year.

However, the discipline of reviewing your accounts every quarter is lost. When you don’t have time to monitor your accounts, the final balancing payment may be a lot more than you expect.

When you use the VAT annual accounting scheme, you have two months to submit the annual VAT return after the end of the accounting year. If that return is late, HMRC will send you an estimated VAT bill which may be less than the true liability. If insufficient VAT is paid, penalties will be due.

Annual accounting can suit businesses which have regular predictable income; those with very variable income can end up paying too much or too little VAT.


Missing trader fraud

There are so many risks in business nowadays. You need to know your customer to check they aren’t trying to launder money through you, but you also need to know your suppliers to protect yourself from VAT fraud.

If your supplier goes missing and deliberately fails to pay its VAT liability for taxable supplies in the UK, you could end up liable for the VAT. This can apply when you knew, or should have known, that a transaction was connected with VAT fraud. HMRC may refuse your claim for the VAT you paid in respect of that purchase.

In determining whether your business should have been aware of the VAT fraud, HMRC will consider whether you took reasonable steps to verify the integrity of your supply chain. Such reasonable steps would include asking these questions:

  • What is your supplier’s history in the trade?
  • Are high value deals offered by a newly established supplier with minimal trading history?
  • Do those high value deals have no formal contract?
  • Are you asked to make payments to a third party or to an offshore bank account?
  • Has the supplier referred you to a customer who is willing to buy the goods?
  • Has a prospective buyer contacted you shortly after you made contact with the seller, offering to buy the very same goods?
  • Are you offered deals that have a consistent or pre-determined profit, regardless of date, quantities or specifications involved?
  • Have you been notified by HMRC that previous deals with the supplier were connected with VAT fraud?

You should always check that the goods exist in the quantity and specification offered and that they are in good condition. Also, beware of large quantities of goods with non-UK specifications offered for supply in the UK, and check what remedies are available if the goods turn out not to be as described.


VAT on exported goods

When you export goods to a customer in a country outside the EU, the sale is zero-rated for VAT if, and only if, seven different points of supporting evidence can show what went from A to B, what it was worth, how it moved, and who received it.

The seven categories of evidence set out in section 6.5 of VAT Notice 703 are:

  • the supplier
  • the consignor (where different from the supplier)
  • the customer
  • the goods
  • an accurate value
  • the export destination
  • the mode of transport and route of the export movement

If any of those points are not detailed on documents retained in the UK, HMRC will conclude that the goods were not eligible for zero rating and it will demand 20% of the value of the goods exported.

The goods have to be described in some detail, such as ‘make XZ and model number AB17856’. A general description along the lines of ‘various electrical goods’ will not be acceptable. To prove the goods have been moved out of the country, the original bills of lading, air-waybills, or sea-waybills must be retained. Photocopies won’t be acceptable to HMRC unless they have been authenticated by the shipping or airline company.

HMRC also has the power to impose penalties for a careless or deliberate error, of up to 100% of the VAT which should have been paid.


VAT on hot food

The general rule is that food for human or animal consumption is subject to zero rate VAT. However, where food is supplied as part of a catering contract, standard rate VAT (20%) must be applied to the cost of all the food whether it is served hot or cold. This covers restaurant meals, and any prepared food to be eaten on the premises.

Where the takeaway food is intended to be eaten hot, like fish and chips, VAT should be applied at 20%. Where the food is to be eaten cold (or at least ‘not hot’), such as sandwiches, zero rate VAT should be applied.

Difficulties arise when a café or takeaway outlet cooks the food item and allows it to cool before selling it. This issue was the basis of the infamous ‘pasty tax’ in 2012, but food sellers are still getting the rules wrong and ending up with huge VAT bills.

In a recent case, a market stall selling Caribbean curries prepared each curry in the morning and kept it warm in a bain marie until it was served to customers at lunch time or later. As the food was served above the ambient room temperature, HMRC regarded the food as ‘hot’, hence 20% VAT should have been added to the price.

The VAT rules for food and drink can be very tricky to apply correctly, but we can help check whether your business is getting it right.