Fixed-rate deductions for use of home for business purposes

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 30 Mehefin 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Clause 24 makes changes to ensure that businesses that operate through a partnership have clarity on how they should apply the simplified expenses regime. The Finance Act 2013 introduced a new simplified expenses regime for small unincorporated businesses. Two of the simplifications relate to the expenses of premises used for both personal and business use. As originally enacted, it could be difficult to interpret how a partnership business should apply the provisions. The changes made by clause 24 will enable unincorporated partnerships to apply these rules with clarity and in line with the original policy objective.

The changes will achieve two things. First, where partners occasionally work from home, they can also apply the fixed-rate deductions, subject to the partnership applying the provision consistently and ensuring that any hour worked at the home is counted only once, no matter how many people work at the home at the same time. Secondly, if only some members of the partnership live on the business premises—for example, a pub, restaurant or B and B—the partnership can apply the fixed-rate adjustments for the non-business costs based on the number of occupants in the same way as for individual traders.

The clause will clarify the rules and ensure that partnerships can apply the simplification as intended. Overall, the clause will put partnerships on the same footing as businesses operated by individuals and I hope it stands part of the Bill.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I have one or two minor technical issues to raise, the first of which has been brought to my attention by the ever helpful Association of Taxation Technicians. It tells me, and I quote, “The current wording of section 94H(4)”—this is set out on page 32 of the Bill —“is silent on how any overlap of hours worked should be treated,” so there may be a technical issue when more than one person is working in the premises under consideration.

The Chartered Institute of Taxation says: “It would appear that clause 24 is actually restricting the claim that can be made for use of a home by an individual, compared to what is in existing 94H.” Proposed new section 94H(4B) of the Income Tax (Trading and Other Income) Act 2005 states:

“Where more than one person does qualifying work in the same home at the same time, any hour spent wholly and exclusively on that work is to be taken into account only once”.

The CIOT continues: “There was no similar restriction in existing section 94H, which defined number of hours worked.” Will the Minister look at those two technical points, if he does not have the answer immediately to hand? Will he also give us an indication of what take-up there has been of these deductions and so on, since they were introduced in 2013?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Let me turn first to section 94H(4). The simplified expenses option is designed to cover all the expenses of the home. Many of those are not affected by the number of people working in the home at any one time. Some other expenses, such as telephone and broadband costs, can be claimed separately. In line with the desire to provide simplicity, any hour is counted only once, no matter how many people are working in the home at the time. It is also worth bearing in mind, in the context of these provisions, that this regime is optional. Nobody needs to make use of it if they do not want to or if they find themselves disadvantaged by it.

It was also asked whether the need to record the actual hours worked in the home would make things more complicated, especially where individuals work in the home at different times. Ensuring that any overlap hours are counted only once does require some element of calculation, but we still believe that simplified expenses is an easier calculation for businesses to make than measuring the actual expenses incurred and then correctly apportioning these between business and private use. In any case, where a home is used extensively for business, it is likely that simplified expenses will not be appropriate. It is also worth drawing the Committee’s attention to the fact that the website has a straightforward, simplified expense checker, which allows a business to quickly see whether using the fixed-rate amounts would be to their benefit.

As for whether we should backdate this change to the start date of the simplified expenses regime in 2013-14, it is three years since the option to use simplified expenses became available. This measure is a clarification, and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will accept partnerships applying the pre-existing legislation in the same way when making tax returns covering a period before the legislation has effect. I hope that is helpful.

On wider issue of take-up, I am not sure how much information I can provide at this point—[Interruption]—although if I think long and hard about it, my recollection is that we have no analytical data available to answer that question. The self-assessment returns used by unincorporated businesses do not require businesses to separately identify if they have used the simplified expenses or not. Information from HMRC’s customer call handlers is that some callers found the simplified expense approach useful, in particular the fixed-rate deductions for working from home. I am not sure I can provide any more information than that. I hope that provides useful clarification for the Committee and that the clause will stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 24 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 25