The surprising things you may be able to claim against tax

From holidays to golf lessons


accountant filling the forms...

Self-employment is booming in the UK, with more than five million people working for themselves at the beginning of this year.

And if you're one of them, you can claim expenses against your tax bill. Nobody wants to hand over more of their hard-earned cash to HMRC than they actually have to - so do you know what's claimable, and what's not?

See also: Rise of the self-employed could cost UK £3.5bn a year

See also: Designer jeans and betting slips among 'ludicrous' expense claims on tax returns

It's pretty obvious that you can claim for items such as stationery, travel and tech expenses such as an internet connection or a PC printer.

You may also know that you can claim for the use of part of your home, for protective clothing and even for gifts to charity.

But according to tax adviser and accountant of Easy Tax Returns Jonathan Amponsah, many of us are missing a trick. While you're only allowed to claim for costs incurred 'wholly and exclusively' for your business, the rules may not be quite as prescriptive as you'd think.

Here are a few things that you may be able to claim - and trim quite a bit from your tax bill.

You can't generally claim back the cost of wining and dining a contact - but in certain cases you can. When it's a question of staff entertainment, for example, you can claim £150 a year per head. And, it may surprise you to hear, being a one-man band doesn't rule you out. If you're the director of a limited company, you can still claim this expense because you're classed as an employee.

You can also claim for entertainment when it's actually part of your business - for example, if you're providing a training course to businesses and giving them lunch.

"Also, the main one is where there is a quid pro quo, for example you're a freelance journalist and you want to give someone lunch. Normally that person would charge you for that information, but you agree to take them out for lunch in exchange," says Amponsah.

"That actually works for businesses as well. If you take a new prospect out they obviously don't bring anything to the table, but if it's somebody that has information for which you'd normally be charged, that is allowed as entertainment."

This one really might surprise you - and, to be fair, you're certainly not able to claim for your week in the sun in the normal run of things.

However, contrary to what many people believe, you can mix business with pleasure, for example by extending a business trip, even though the journey has a dual purpose. All that matters is that business be the primary purpose.

If, say, you spend £1,000 on the business trip and then stick around for a couple of days' R&R for a cost of £200, you can then pay the company back £200 and still claim the £1,000 against its income, as the primary purpose of the trip was for business.

Similarly, you can bring your spouse, even when they're not a business partner or employee, as long as you separate the cost.

What you can't do, though, is go on holiday, decide to do some business while you're over there, and then put it through as a business expense. Because the purpose of the trip was personal, you can't claim any of the cost incurred.

And the really surprising ones
School fees, care home fees, staff holidays and even golfing lessons can be claimed if you run your business through a limited company rather than sole trader or partnership - in certain circumstances.

You're allowed to provide your employees - including yourself, as director - with vouchers that they can exchange for a holiday, for example. And HMRC allows you to claim against this, as long as you report this cost as a benefit to your staff, much like a company car or medical benefits

The company then pays Class 1 National Insurance on the cost and you as an employee pay tax on it, either 20 or 40%; and the company can claim the cost of this benefit against its income.

But be careful
Some people seem to think that they can claim for every aspect of their lives: Amponsah says he's had clients trying it with "food for their pets or a Sky subscription, because they believe they have to entertain themselves when they are at home."

But your tax bill really isn't a case of 'try it and see', as you'll only be drawing attention to yourself - making it more likely that HMRC will go through your accounts with a fine-toothed comb.

Ten terrible tax excuses

Ten terrible tax excuses