Exemption for amounts which would otherwise be deductible: payments at a benchmark rate
The Income Tax (Approved Expenses) Regulations 2016 (SI 2015/1948)
For periods prior to 6 April 2016, see EIM30050.
Employers wishing to pay or reimburse expenses may use the benchmark rates set out in the Income Tax (Approved Expenses) Regulations without needing the prior approval of an officer of Revenue & Customs.
The regulations set out the rates which employers can use for payment or reimbursement of employees expenses where the relevant qualifying conditions are met. These regulations replace the previously published benchmark scale rates (see EIM05230).
These rates are the maximum tax and NICs free amounts that can be paid by employers who choose to use the system. An employer can pay less than these rates if it wants to do so. If a higher payment or expense reimbursement is made without agreeing a bespoke scale rate with HMRC (see EIM30250), any excess over the published rate should be subject to tax and NIC’s.
Although it will no longer be necessary to undertake a sampling exercise to establish that the amount paid is a reasonable estimate of expenses employees actually incur in these circumstances, employers will still need to have a checking process in place, (see EIM30270) and be able to demonstrate that they satisfy the travel and subsistence rules at Section 337 ITEPA 2003 (see EIM32350 onwards) and Section 338 ITEPA 2003 (see EIM32000 onwards).
Rates are set as follows.
|Minimum journey time||Maximum amount of meal allowance|
|15 hours (and ongoing at 8pm)||£25|
Where a scale rate of £5 or £10 is paid and the qualifying journey in respect of which it is paid lasts beyond 8pm a supplementary rate of £10 can be paid to cover the additional expenses necessarily incurred as a result of working late.
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 conditions are satisfied.
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, on a journey that is not substantially ordinary commuting.
- the employee should be absent from his normal place of work or home for a continuous period in excess of five hours or ten hours.
- the employee should have incurred a cost on a meal (food and drink) after starting the journey and retained appropriate evidence of their expenditure.
Employers can pay less than the published rates. If an employer pays less than the published rates, employees cannot claim tax relief on the difference, but if they spend more on expenses than the amount that is reimbursed they can still claim a deduction from HMRC for the difference between what they actually spent on the expense and the amount reimbursed by their employer in the normal manner, subject to their having retained appropriate evidence.
If a higher amount is paid without agreeing a bespoke scale rate with HMRC, the excess should be subject to tax and NICs.
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 a benchmark rate in respect of those meals.
Up until 5 April 2019, it’s a condition of the Income Tax (Approved Expenses) Regulations that employers using the benchmark scale rates to pay or reimburse their employees that they have an appropriate checking system in place to ensure that payments are only made on qualifying occasions. See EIM30270.
From 6 April 2019, employers will no longer be required to operate a system for checking an employee’s expenditure in order to make payments free of tax in relation to expenses paid or reimbursed using benchmark scale rates. Instead, employers will only be required to ensure that employees are undertaking qualifying travel on occasions in respect of which a payment is made or reimbursed and that neither the employer nor any other person knows or suspects or could reasonably be expected to know or suspect, that travel was not undertaken. See EIM30225.
Working Rule Agreements – The published scale rates do not apply to employees covered by Working Rule Agreements, for which separate specific rates are already set for particular occupations. See EIM71300.
Overnight accommodation rate - A benchmark rate has not been set for overnight accommodation costs. Employers wishing to agree a rate with HMRC for overnight accommodation will need to apply using the bespoke rate process. See EIM30250.
Overnight subsistence rate - The over 15 hour rate for subsistence will almost always apply where an employee is required to stay away overnight, provided the cost of any meals is not also included in an accommodation payment.
Staying with friends and family rate - A rate has not been set for a scale rate payment for staying with friends and family. The travel rules still apply to actual costs of subsistence incurred while staying with friends and family. See EIM30073.