Business entertainment expenses: everything you need to know

Entertaining people can be a very enjoyable part of being in business - but when can you get tax relief and reclaim VAT on the cost of entertaining? In this guide, we’ll answer a few of the most important questions about reclaiming expenses and VAT on entertaining costs.

Please note: in this article, the guidance on when VAT can be reclaimed relates only to businesses that are registered for VAT and that are not using the VAT Flat Rate Scheme

Business entertaining

Business entertaining costs are those incurred for the purpose of entertaining people who are not employees of your business. This includes clients and customers but can also mean directors, partners and - if you’re a sole trader - you.

What counts as business entertainment?

HMRC defines business entertaining as providing ‘hospitality of any kind’ and gives examples including:

  • food and drink
  • accommodation
  • theatre and concert tickets
  • entry to sporting events and facilities
  • entry to clubs and nightclubs
  • use of business assets such as yachts and aircraft
  • when you provide entertainment or hospitality only for the directors or partners of your business

Is business entertaining tax deductible?

No. You can't claim either tax relief or VAT on business entertaining for anyone who is not an employee of your business.

An exception to this rule would be a situation where directors and partners of the business attend an event such as a staff party together with other employees. HMRC may accept this as an employee entertaining expense, but it’s best to check with an accountant if you’re in any doubt.

Employee entertaining

Employee entertaining costs are those incurred for the purpose of entertaining employees of your business. This is also sometimes referred to as ‘staff entertainment’.

If you're entertaining anyone who is not an employee, this counts as a business entertaining cost rather than employee entertainment. Remember that if you’re a sole trader, you are not an employee of your business.

What counts as employee entertainment?

Employee entertainment costs commonly include - but are not limited to - food, drink, entertainment, venue hire, transport and overnight accommodation. If you’re in any doubt about whether or not something qualifies as an employee entertainment expense, speak to an accountant who will be able to advise you.

Is employee entertaining tax deductible?

Yes. Employee entertaining costs are usually treated as an allowable business expense and are tax deductible. VAT-registered businesses may also recover VAT incurred on allowable employee entertainment.

HMRC only allows you to do this for the cost of entertaining your current employees. An employee has to be someone who is on your business's payroll and is being paid a salary. Former and previous employees don't qualify, nor do subcontractors and nor do shareholders who don't work in the business.

This can get quite complex if you host an event that’s attended by a mix of employees and non-employees. For example, if you allow your employees to bring a friend to the annual Christmas party (or any other staff parties), you'd have to work out the amount you paid on the cost of entertaining your employees and only claim for that. You can't claim for the cost of entertaining their friends.

Do employees pay tax on entertainment?

Entertaining your employees may be an allowable expense for tax relief in your business’s accounts, but it could also be a benefit on which your employees have to pay some tax.

If you’re hosting an annual event, such as a Christmas party, that’s open to all staff and costs less than £150 per guest present, then HMRC is not likely to regard it as a taxable benefit for your employees.

But if any of these three conditions aren’t met, then the whole cost of the event becomes a taxable benefit. For example, an event is likely to become a taxable benefit if any of the following is true:

  • The event is a one-off meal to celebrate a new contract or good work.
  • Some employees are excluded.
  • The cost per head is over £150.

What if your business has no employees other than directors or partners?

If your business has one or more directors or partners, but no other employees, then the issue becomes more difficult. HMRC says that the cost of providing entertainment only to directors or partners doesn’t qualify for tax relief or a VAT deduction.

But they also say that if the directors or partners are travelling ‘away from their normal place of work on a business trip’, then any VAT paid on the cost of travel, accommodation and meals can be reclaimed. The rules for tax relief would mirror this. This also applies to employees, sole traders and to subcontractors who are part of the team and treated like employees.

If you are not sure whether you can claim tax relief or reclaim VAT on a particular cost, you should seek professional advice from an accountant who will be able to advise you.

Capture and record expenses the easy way

Whether you're entertaining employees or just grabbing a coffee on the go, FreeAgent lets you track all the expenses you incur while running your business.

For entertaining expenses, FreeAgent helps you to prepare accurate accounts by allowing you to select ‘business entertaining’ or ‘staff entertaining’ from a comprehensive list of categories when you’re recording your expenses.

Find out more about managing expenses the easy way in FreeAgent.

expense details form in FreeAgent

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Disclaimer:The content included in this guide is based on our understanding of tax law at the time of publication. It may be subject to change and may not be applicable to your circumstances, so should not be relied upon. You are responsible for complying with tax law and should seek independent advice if you require further information about the content included in this guide. If you don't have an accountant, take a look at our directory to find a FreeAgent Practice Partner based in your local area.