Thursday, 11 January 2018

For help on Self Assessment for the self-employed…

It’s probably best not to be guided by Preston Garstang and Compton Bassett… 

Yep. It’s that time of year again. The time of year when lots of us become a little anxious and distracted.

And, nope, we don’t mean the F.A. Cup 3rd Round or feeble attempts at Dry January but the end-of-month deadline for submitting tax returns.

So, while many people frantically scrabble together as much information as they can to get their affairs in order, it’s a busy time too for HMRC as their Helpdesk Team prepare for the last-minute rush of enquiries.

Which is why it’s all hands to the pump, and the reason Messrs Preston Garstang and Compton Bassett from the Department of Trivial Affairs ( October 2017 blog) have been drafted in to help.

What they don’t know about the finer points of Self Assessment for the self-employed can be written in several weighty tomes, so, rather than being assigned to the helpdesk, their remit was to instead submit all manner of potential queries as part of a test run.

Here’s a sample of what they came up with…

On travel expenses:

Q. I have friends coming to help me on a business trip who aren't employed by me in any form. 
     How can I claim for their expenses for the trip?

Q. If I take my cat on Eurostar for business, can I claim £0.45 per mile instead of the fare?

Q. I got a unicycle for Christmas and plan to use it to get to work. I’m unable to ride it yet though.
     Two questions – can I be reimbursed for lessons and how much can I claim per mile?

Q. Sorry, that should have read car.

On clothing and personal expenses:

Q. I’m a professional lion-tamer. Can I expense private healthcare if I get injured?

Q. I’m a Scuba Diver Trainer and was thinking of getting a reversible wetsuit/tuxedo like Sean
     Connery wore in Thunderball. Do I just claim 50% of the cost?

Q. My work has resulted in back pain from sitting at a desk (my desk is too low and my chair is
     too high, and it also only has 3 legs). My osteopath says I can claim the cost of treatments. Is
     this correct?

Q. Good day. I am a method actor in musical theatre and need to maintain a specific physique that
     ranges from extremely buff to er, not-so-buff (nonetheless, I remain irresistibly cavalier). How
     much can I expense on gym membership and fast-food?

Q. As part of my brand image, I take my Andalusian chihuahua (Rodrigues) to business meetings.
     He usually sits in my handbag. However, he gets very nervous if there are a lot of people
     present and has already ruined 2 rugs, a welcome mat and a Louis Vuitton Speedy 30. Can I
     claim for these as well as a dog hypnotherapist?

On capital expenses:

Q. I’m planning a Star Wars attraction and want to build a Death Star. Some of it will be for work
      and some for holidays. How much can I expense? (Ps. Not sure yet if it will be my base for
      work. It’ll also be in my back garden and not up in space.)

Q. How do I claim for work done on my swimming pool? The roof was leaking so I had to have it
     fixed and my car park also had to be resurfaced.

Q. How about a Bond-villain lair inside a volcano? I say Bond-villain lair but it’s actually just
     going to be used for respectable purposes.

Q. Regarding the swimming pool, it’s a separate building next to the patio.

Q. I work from home and my front door is in a terrible state (I think it’s next door’s dog) and needs
     replacing. What amount can I claim back?

Q. If I work from home, can I knock all the walls down to make it one big room instead of having
     to claim just a proportion?

Q. I can turn the swimming pool into a registered business if that’s easier?

On work-related research expenses:

Q. I regularly conduct wine tasting abroad. Can I fly Business Class and claim it as an expense?
     The fact I have family and friends there is completely coincidental.

Q. Performing my work includes researching a lot of culture (films, video games, magazines, 
     books, travel) for creative inspiration and idea generation. Oh, and gin and tonic. Can these
     purchases be included as expenses?

On entertaining expenses:

Q. Can I count membership to a Members’ Club that I use for an office/meeting place for my

Q. Can I claim for a business development meeting with a VIP customer? Usually it’s in my office
     but it might be over dinner in an expensive restaurant (they do an early-bird menu).

Q. Is there a daily food allowance of £8.00 per day? And does this go up with London weighting?

Q. What if it’s a Meal Deal?

Q. Or just a bag of crisps (low fat)?

Just in case none of this has been particularly helpful, here are some must-knows:

The term ‘wholly and exclusively’ is key to much of what can be legitimately claimed for
   business expenses.

Entertaining expenses are a big no-no.

Any tax due should be paid by 31st January, including payment of any liability (for 2016-17),
  and any payment on account (due for 2017-18).

And, lastly, a £100 penalty also applies for late submissions, even if there was no tax to pay or
  any tax due was paid on time.

More information can be found at and via HMRC’s online webinars:

So, there you have it.

Incidentally, we’ve just heard that some of the Helpdesk Team have been named in the New Year Honours List; not for services to the public but for ‘outstanding patience and fortitude in the face of extreme ill-informed inquisitiveness’ – from seconded colleagues.

Although the rumour that HMRC now internally stands for ‘Help Me Remain Civil’ is yet to be verified.

Until next month...