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A few years back, self-employed people couldn’t claim the cost of any food or beverage incurred while travelling on business, unless they had been staying away overnight.
HM Revenue said that “everybody must eat to live” and consequently eating wasn’t an allowable expense if you were self-employed – in spite of the fact that workers could claim for some company meals!
But they’ve since closed the gap and allowed the self-employed to claim some food costs.
As a self-employed person, you can claim “reasonable” costs of food and beverage when you’re travelling on business, if:
Your business is by nature itinerant (for example, you’re a commercial traveller), or
You’re creating an “occasional company journey outside the normal pattern”, for example, you’re a home-based illustrator and you travel to London to meet a new publisher, or
You stay overnight on a business trip and claim the expense of accommodation as well as meals.
HM Revenue has extended this to “traders who do not use resorts “, and say specifically that long-distance lorry drivers who sleep in their cabs can also claim the cost of their meals, though they’re not claiming the expense of accommodation.
I would read that to say that “traders who do not use resorts”, would also mean that you could claim the price of your meal if you’re travelling on business and stay overnight with a buddy, but you eat out before going to your buddy ‘s house.
“Reasonable” Costs? What Are Those?
In the case of food and beverage for the self-employed, HM Revenue doesn’t give a definition of what a “reasonable” expense is.
When looking at meals for workers they give a good example of “having an elaborate menu and fine wines” as “meals on an unreasonable scale”.
So you’d be well advised to keep clear of the Ritz if you would like to claim the expense of a business meal!
If you’re a worker, you might have some meals offered by your employer, for example, if your office has a staff canteen.
What I looked at here is the cost of your meals when you’re travelling on business, should you pay for them yourself and then claim that price back from the employer.
When Does That Not Count As a Taxable Benefit?
Basically, if you can claim the expense of the travel, you can claim the expense of the meal, because, for workers, HM Revenue includes meals under “the necessary expense of business travel”.
So there’s no need for the journey to include an overnight stay, or be outside your normal pattern of business travel when you’re a worker.
The cost of meals is one case where HM Revenue is more generous to employees than to the self-employed – so do be clear as to what your standing is.
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