The tax treatment of employee travel expenses is quite complicated. In outline, you can claim travel which you necessarily have to undertake in the course of your employment. You cannot claim travel which is ‘ordinary commuting’. This normally means travel from home to your usual place of work. You usual place of work is called a ‘permanent’ place of work, for tax purposes. To get a grip on the tax position we need to look at some complicated definitions!
Home to work travel
The tax rules say that travel from home to a permanent work place is not an allowable expense for tax purposes. By contrast, travel from home to a temporary workplace is an allowable expense.
Travel from your workplace
Travel to visit, for example, customers, clients or suppliers from a both a temporary or a permanent work place is allowable.
Travel from home to customers, suppliers or clients may be allowable in some circumstances – see http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/eimanual/EIM32005.htm
Permanent work places
It is particularly important to decide if a particular workplace has become a ‘permanent’ workplace. To understand how these rules work, we need to look at how HMRC defines a permanent workplace.
HMRC says that the ‘place at which an employee works is a permanent workplace if he or she attends it regularly for the performance of the duties of the employment.’ http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/eimanual/EIM32065.htm.
By contrast, ‘A workplace is a temporary workplace if an employee goes there only to perform a task of limited duration or for a temporary purpose.
Regular but still temporary
One difficult category is where you regularly go to a particular workplace, but expect to be based there for a short period – no more than 24 months.
HMRC accepts that if your work will based at one location temporarily, this can be a temporary workplace – http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/eimanual/EIM32075.htm.
A few specific points are worth noting here:
1) If you attend a work place continuously for more than 24 months, HMRC considers that it has become a permanent work place; (this is also so once it becomes apparent that you will be there for more than 24 months)
2) If there is no permanent place of work, the ‘area’ of work may be treated as the base. This might be true, for example, for a sales representative who represented a particular geographical area, but lived outside the area.
In this case the employee cannot claim the cost of travel from home to the area – but can claim the cost of travel within the area (see http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/eimanual/EIM32200.htm and the example at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/eimanual/EIM32207.htm)
There is comprehensive guidance on this issue on the HMRC website at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/eimanual/eim31800.htm.