How to buy gifts for your clients and claim on expenses

With the bottom-line being squeezed for all of us, how best to buy gifts for clients, co-directors, even staff, and how to claim it on expenses, takes on extra importance, writes Greg Timson, chief accountant at inniAccounts.

This article is for you if you’re a limited company director who wants to purchase gifts – whether it be for customers, suppliers, your staff and even (perish the thought), yourself. So let’s consider the different tax rules that apply, chiefly to the various types of ‘entertainment expenses’ a limited company can legitimately pay for.

Client entertainment

Giving gifts to clients falls under HMRC’s entertainment rules, as referred to above. Entertainment expenses for clients includes taking a client out for dinner, or to an event such as a football match.

HMRC defines two types of entertainment:

Business entertainment’ such as forming business connections and discussing a project; and:

Non-business entertainment’, which is typically entertainment for social reasons.

In our experience as contractor accountants, it’s often best to keep the latter category (non-business entertainment) separate from the company, to avoid any tax and National Insurance implications.

HMRC has several expenses that it specifically states are not allowed for corporation tax. Unfortunately, entertainment is an example of this - the cost of entertaining clients can’t be deducted from taxable profits. This is also the same for VAT; so if VAT is paid on an expense, it cannot be reclaimed from HMRC.

However, while no tax relief is available, a limited company can still pay for the expense. This is better than paying out of your own pocket, which would be from post-tax income. In other words, you would have been taxed on the income withdrawn from your company which is then used to pay for a business expense.

If you’ve already paid for business entertainment out of your own pocket, your limited company can reimburse you for the costs, provided you have retained a copy of the invoice or receipt.

One point to note is that the expenses should not be ‘excessive.’ This can make it harder to justify to HMRC that they are legitimate business entertainment expenses.

Exception for small, branded, gifts

There is an exception to the above for small gifts if they don’t exceed £50 a year per client, and they carry a conspicuous advert for the company. HMRC gives examples of diaries, pens, and mouse mats.

Please note, gifts of food, drink, tobacco, and vouchers are not allowed, even if they have a company advert on!

Staff entertainment

Costs for annual functions held to treat staff, such as Christmas parties and summer BBQs, are covered by HMRC’s entertainment rules. It’s straightforward to claim but there are a few things to be aware of:

  • The event must be an annual event and open to all employees.
  • It can’t be a one-off event, such an event to celebrate a new contract, as HMRC wouldn’t consider this to be ‘annual.’
  • There is a yearly limit of £150 per person - if this is exceeded the whole amount can become taxable as a benefit in kind for the employees. If you plan on having more than one event it’s best to keep track of the per head cost per event to ensure the £150 is not exceeded over the tax year.
  • If an employee takes a guest, they will also have a £150 limit - in other words £300 per couple.
  • The £150 is not an allowance, an event needs to happen, and the exact amount claimed must be based on receipts.

Staff entertainment costs are allowable expenses for corporation tax and the VAT paid can be reclaimed from HMRC if the company is VAT registered. It’s worth noting the VAT portion that relates to any non-employees, i.e. their guests, can’t be reclaimed from HMRC.

One-person limited companies can also utilise the staff entertainment allowance.

Trivial benefits

The second most common way of providing gifts to staff is by providing what HMRC terms ‘trivial benefits’.

Trivial benefits are exempt from reporting to HMRC. But, similarly to staff entertainment, there are few qualifying rules to be aware of:

  • Each gift cannot exceed £50 in cost.
  • The gift cannot be cash or a cash voucher.
  • The gift cannot be a reward for performance.
  • The gift should not be in the terms of an individual’s contract

If all four of these conditions are not met then the gift becomes taxable.

Gifts can also be provided to directors but there is another overall limit to be aware of. In addition to the £50 per gift threshold, the total value of all gifts in a tax year cannot exceed £300.

Gifts is not an area we have seen much of in case law, but our accountants always, always recommend taking care when utilising trivial benefits.

For instance:

  • Don’t make purchases that total the full allowance with one transaction e.g. 6 x £50 vouchers purchased in one transaction!
  • Purchase the gifts directly from the company bank account rather than paying personally and reimbursing the cost.
  • Try and use them for special occasions throughout the year e.g. a birthday, Christmas or anniversary.
  • Be careful with using regular subscriptions as trivial benefits. If staff have a legitimate expectation that the subscription will continue indefinitely, then HMRC could view it as a contractual arrangement and therefore deem it to be falling outside of the trivial benefit rules.
  • Gifts can be provided to family members not involved in the company, but they would form part of the director’s yearly allowance.
  • If employing a family member who is not a director, provide gifts in line with any non-family member employees. Or if there are no other employees, consider still applying the £300 limit.

Finally, get gifting but avoid the traps

Utilising staff entertainment and trivial benefits thresholds are a good way to boost morale, say thanks, or get a little extra out of your limited company. However there are several traps to avoid. If you aren’t sure about a particular transaction, or event it’s best to check with your contractor accountant in advance.

Thursday 21st Apr 2022
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Written by Greg Timson

Greg Timson is the Chief Accountant at inniAccounts, which provides accountancy services to contractors, consultants and small businesses.

Greg holds both AAT and ACCA qualifications and has over 14 years' experience helping clients meet their accountancy needs throughout the financial year. He heads up the compliance and technical aspects of inniAccounts' practice and is an expert at helping contractors and consultants with complex tax matters.

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