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HMRC internal manual

Employment Income Manual

Employment income: scale rate expenses: subsistence expenses: table of benchmark scale rates

The guidance on this page applies for the tax years up to and including 2015 to 2016. For tax years 2016 to 2017 onwards, the benchmark scale rates have been revised and are now included within the exemption for amounts which would otherwise be deductible. See EIM30200 onwards.

The benchmark scale rates that applied from 6 April 2009 to 5 April 2016 were as follows.

Description Amount (up to)
Breakfast rate £5
One meal (5 hour) rate £5
Two meal (10 hour) rate £10
Late evening meal rate £10

Breakfast rate

The rate may be paid where an employee leaves home earlier than usual and before 6am and incurs a cost on breakfast taken away from home after the qualifying journey has started. If an employee usually leaves before 6am the breakfast rate does not apply.

Late evening meal rate

The rate may be paid where the employee has to work later than usual, finishes work after 8pm having worked their normal day and has to buy a meal before the qualifying journey ends which they would usually have at home.

The breakfast and late evening meal rates are for use in exceptional circumstances only and are not intended for employees with regular early or late work patterns (see examples at EIM05232).

One meal (5-hour) rate

The rate may be paid where the employee has been undertaking qualifying travel for a period of at least 5 hours and has incurred the cost of a meal.

Two meal (10-hour) rate

The rate may be paid where the employee has been undertaking qualifying travel for a period of at least 10 hours and has incurred the cost of a meal or meals.

Benchmark scale rate payments must be limited to 3 meal rates on one day or 24-hour period. A meal is defined as a combination of food and drink and would take a normal dictionary meaning. Where employees are required to start early or finish late on a regular basis, the over 5-hour and 10-hour rate, whichever is applicable, can be paid provided that all the other qualifying rules are satisfied.

Particular issues and exemptions

Payments in excess of the benchmark rates

The benchmark rates are the maximum tax and NICs free amounts that could be paid by employers who choose to use this system. An employer could pay less than this rate if it wants to do so. If a higher amount is paid without agreeing a tailored scale rate with HMRC, the excess should be subject to tax and NICs.

Qualifying conditions

Benchmark scale rates must only be used where all the qualifying conditions are met. The qualifying conditions are:

  • the travel must be in the performance of an employee’s duties or to a temporary place of work
  • the employee should be absent from their normal place of work or home for a continuous period in excess of 5 hours or 10 hours
  • the employee should have incurred a cost on a meal (food and drink) after starting the journey

Working Rule Agreements

Benchmark scale rates would not apply to employees covered by Working Rule Agreements, for which separate specific rates are already set for particular occupations.

Overnight subsistence rate

A benchmark rate has not been set for overnight subsistence. It will still be necessary to agree a rate, if applicable, with the employer.

An employee can only be reimbursed for a meal once. If the cost of an evening meal or breakfast is reimbursed on an actual basis, because it is included in the cost of an overnight stay, the employee would not also be entitled to the benchmark rate for breakfast or late evening meal.

Staying with friends and family rate

A benchmark rate has not been set for a scale rate payment for staying with friends and family. Furthermore, HMRC no longer accepts that a scale rate payment for this purpose should be agreed with an employer. The travel rules still apply to actual costs of subsistence incurred while staying with friends and family. The guidance at EIM30073 reflects this view.