Business entertainment expenses: How to manage them

Imagine the scene: pre-pandemic, you’re taking a new client to lunch after a project kick-off meeting, and you grab the receipt to pay for the meal. Or, the team is working late on an urgent deadline, so you order in pizza to keep up morale. 

These scenes may have changed a little in 2020 – it might be more about home delivery and ecommerce vouchers – but the concept of business entertainment expenses remains the same: there will be times when you pick up the bill to smooth a relationship or give people a boost. 

When you consider a 5% increase in customer retention can increase company revenue by 25% to 95%, those few entertainment expenses can make good business sense.

And as an added bonus, company entertainment expenses – whether for staff or for clients – can be tax deductible. This can help you to reinvest in the business and reduce the overall tax burden for the company.

What are business entertainment expenses?

According to the HMRC’s guidelines, business entertainment can involve eating, drinking and “other hospitality”. 

It can be “business entertainment” – where you’re discussing a project or maintaining a connection – or it can be “non-business entertainment”, or a social reason for the entertainment.

It’s considered a business entertainment exercise when:

Staff vs client

HMRC has very strict definitions of who counts as an “employee” for the purpose of claiming VAT on staff entertainment expenses.  

An employee must be someone who is on your payroll and being paid a salary. It does not include sub-contractors, nor shareholders who don’t work in the business. 

Entertaining anyone else counts as “business entertainment”, and you can’t claim tax relief or VAT on these business entertainment expenses. 

Small vs large companies

Sole traders, or a partner in a partnership or LLP, don’t count as an employee and so you can’t claim staff entertainment expenses for entertaining yourself – legally, there’s no difference between you and the business.

Equally important, you can only claim VAT on staff entertainment where your company is registered for VAT. Small businesses that fall under the VAT threshold – currently for companies earning more than £85,000 – can’t claim back tax on entertainment expenses. 

What can be claimed as company entertainment expenses?

You can be reimbursed for entertaining expenses tax-free, as long as they are “incurred wholly, necessarily and exclusively in performance of your employment”. 

When they are, then the company can reimburse for the cost of any business entertainment tax-free. 

Any kind of hospitality can come under the “entertainment” banner, including:

Are business entertainment expenses tax deductible?

You can’t reclaim VAT costs associated with customer or client entertainment, but most staff entertainment costs are eligible for tax relief and VAT refunds.

When it comes to annual events like the Christmas party or summer BBQ, you’ll need to mind HMRC’s guidelines if you want to claim. The total cannot exceed £150 per head, and the event must be open to all members of staff. 

It won’t be considered a “qualifying event” if it’s a one-off, or if some employees are left out. The entire cost of the event then becomes a taxable benefit.

It’s important to keep proper records, including receipts, when claiming business entertainment expenses. If you can’t justify the cost to HMRC, it may be disallowed.

What HMRC requires you to report for company expenses

As far as HMRC is concerned, what to report and pay depends on the type of entertainment, and who arranges and pays for it.

If you’re unsure whether a particular business entertainment expense is exempt of tax, play safe and discuss it with HMRC or your accountant.

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Keeping company entertainment expenses from getting out of hand

There are so many rules and regulations around what you can and can’t claim, how it can be claimed, and what you need to report, that the finance team needs to ensure robust records.

Without those records and a strong and clear expenses policy, businesses are at risk of falling victim to fraud. NatWest found fraud costs UK business £190 million each year – and around 40% of that is stolen by staff, with “fiddling expenses” one of the biggest leakage points.

There are ways to control and combat this, though:

If your staff feel empowered and trusted with company budgets, they’ll be less likely to take advantage of the access. 

The importance of visibility – and how to get it

That 360-degree visibility of company finances is perhaps the most important step to take when it comes to handling, processing and claiming business entertainment expenses. 

Soldo is designed with that visibility in mind, providing and enabling you to: 

Make Soldo work for you and get claiming what you’re entitled to.

Discover how Soldo can help you take control of business expenses.