Are Travel Costs tax deductible?
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple,” quipped Algernon in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. “Modern life would be very tedious if it were either”. It’s a maxim that the taxman seems to have taken to heart, especially when it comes to deciding the question “Are travel costs always tax deductible?” – as a doctor called Samad Samadian found out in 2014.
Dr Samadian had, like many of us, an office at his home. It was a handy place to keep his stethoscope and issue invoices for keeping his patients on this side of the mortal divide.
So far, so good. But the doctor also worked at four different hospitals under both NHS and private contracts. He didn’t maintain a permanent office in any of them, but instead would hire an outpatient consulting room for three hours. As soon as he’d finished, someone would come along and remove his nameplate from the door and replace it with one belonging to the next medico who had booked the room.
The arrangement was a sensible one, and it wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows had not Dr Samadian decided to claim as an expense the cost of travel between his home and the hospitals.
What counts as a ‘place of business’?
This decision seemed to give the taxman sleepless nights. “Hang on,” one of them probably said. “If Dr Samadian keeps his kit and home and does his invoicing there, that’s surely one of his places of business? And if he’s working in these same hospitals, they’re surely also places of business? So how can he claim for travelling from home to hospital, or hospital to hospital? That’s against the rules.”
The doctor didn’t see it that way, so both Dr Samadian and the taxman ended up arguing the toss in front of two different tribunals.
For a short while it looked as though the doctor would win hands down. His team referred the judge to an earlier decision, Horton v Young, in which a bricklayer had been allowed to claim the cost of travel from his home to the various different building sites he was employed to work on. He, like Dr Samadian, did his invoicing at home.
Sadly the judge in the first tribunal didn’t think much of this argument. Indeed, he decided that the more permanent nature of the doctor’s different workplaces disallowed him from claiming travel between them.
Tribunal conclusions about travel expenses
Dr Samadian took this rather to heart. He took the case to a higher tribunal and argued his case again. The tribunal disagreed with it, concluding that travel expenses:
- Are deductible in relation to itinerant work
- Are deductible if journeys between places of business are purely for business purposes
- Are non-deductible between home (even if it is a place of business) and other places of business
- Are non-deductible for journeys between locations that are not places of business and those that are.
Moreover, if the doctor travelled from home to an NHS hospital, expenses would be disallowed as NHS work is an employment. If he went from home to a private hospital, expenses would be disallowed because – although the work is self-employed – the tribunal ruled there was duality of purpose. And if he went from an NHS hospital to a private hospital he couldn’t claim travel as NHS work is counted as an employment.
Indeed, the only silver lining was that if the doctor went to a patient’s home or a different care location, he was allowed to claim travel as they would not be regular workplaces – and there would be no duality of purpose.
So, next time you’re totting up your business mileage, ask yourself whether the taxman would see your figures as a pure and simple truth – or an opportunity to disallow your claim. If you have the slightest doubt, get in touch and talk to one of our account managers today – we’ll be happy to advise you.
About Ben Locker
Ben Locker is a copywriter who specialises in business-to-business marketing, writing about everything from software and accountancy to construction and power tools. He co-founded the Professional Copywriters’ Network, the UK’s association for commercial writers, and is named in Direct Marketing Association research as ‘one of the copywriters who copywriters rate’.