Can your business reclaim VAT on entertaining expenses?

In most situations, a business can claim input tax on its expenditure – assuming that it is both VAT registered and not partly exempt i.e., making some exempt supplies as well as sales that are subject to VAT. However, a specific input tax block applies to business entertaining expenses – unless the entertaining relates to either an employee or, in some cases, an overseas customer.


John is the audit partner in a firm of accountants i.e., he is a business owner. When working at clients’ premises, he often visits restaurants for lunch, usually accompanied by a member of his audit team (employee), and often by one or two directors of the company that he is auditing at the time (client). Can input tax be claimed on the lunch costs? Would the situation be different if the clients came from outside the UK?

In effect, there are three different categories of people involved in this arrangement:

  • Client
  • Employee
  • Business owner


No input tax can be claimed on the ‘client’ meals. The expense here is classed as ‘hospitality of any kind’ and therefore is classed as business entertainment within the VAT regulations. The only exception would be if the client was an ‘overseas customer’ and the expense related to a ‘business meeting’ in which case input tax could be claimed on the meal cost, without any output tax liability against the partnership – this issue is considered later in the article.


It needs to be considered whether the employee is ‘acting as host’ to the client, in which case input tax is also blocked on the cost of his lunch i.e., through the business entertaining rules. However, if (as seems likely) the meal cost for the employee in this example is being incurred because he is away from the office on a business related job (the audit), then input tax can be claimed because the expense is classed as ‘subsistence’ rather than ‘entertainment’. Input tax would also be claimable if the employer paid for hotel accommodation for the employee as well.

Business owner/directors

Input tax can be claimed on lunches for the business owner (audit partner) in my example, as long as they are classed as ‘subsistence’ – usually indicating a business purpose that is away from the main trading premises of the business. As a guideline, a claim should not be a problem if the business meeting/audit work is at least five miles away from the main trading base.

In the case of the meal in my example above, the same situation would apply to the owner’s meal as with the employee i.e., as long as it is a subsistence cost rather than a meal to entertain the client, then an input tax claim is not a problem.

What about the staff Christmas party?

The festive season is approaching and the good news is that there is no problem (for input tax purposes) in an employer paying for employee meals or other staff entertaining costs e.g. the cost of the office Christmas party, a meal out at a local restaurant following a good trading month, a theatre trip to celebrate a trading anniversary. It is only input tax on entertaining non-employees that is blocked (or employee costs where they are acting as hosts).

There is also no problem claiming input tax on the costs of meals for business owners where entertainment is available to staff generally within the firm, as is the case with the office Christmas party. But there would be a problem if the directors or partners entered local restaurant meals into the business records and claimed input tax. As another positive outcome, there is no monetary cap as far as an input tax claim on the staff meals is concerned i.e. it is not restricted to, say, a value of £150 per head.

Planning tip – a small charge for guest meals?

What is the situation if the directors decided that the company would not only pay for the staff meals at the annual Christmas party but also the cost of guest meals as well e.g. spouses, relatives, customers, suppliers etc.? In such cases, the ‘free hospitality’ to non-employees means an input tax block would apply to the cost of these meals.

However, as a planning tip, if a small charge is made for the guest meals (let’s say £5 per head), then we no longer have a business entertainment situation because the meal is no longer being provided free of charge. So input tax can be claimed on the cost of the guest meals, as long as output tax of 83p is accounted for on each meal sold to a guest (£5 x 1/6).

Subcontractor expenses

As a final practical situation, imagine that you own a building business, and use a combination of subcontractors and employed builders to carry out the various jobs. You agree to pay the petrol bills of the subcontractors who use their own vehicles (if they give you a petrol receipt) as well as their meal and hotel costs for jobs that are away from your local area. What is the input tax position in relation to the subcontractor expenses?

The good news is that input tax can be claimed on the ‘subsistence’ costs relevant to the subcontractors, as long as they get the same treatment in terms of expenses as employees on the same job, but there is no scope to make a claim on any of their travel expenses i.e., the road fuel.

For advice and information on the best way to plan speak to a specialist accountant who will help you to be prepared. Call our team today on 02030049303 or write us at contactnexa@localhost.

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