Self Employed Travel Expenses – Eligibility

This Content Was Last Updated on March 9, 2024 by Jessica Garbett


Confusion Reigns

Claiming travel expenses – whether public transport or using your own car (mileage or apportioned costs) – can be confusing.

This helpsheet applies to Sole Traders and Partners.  The guidelines for Company Directors are different.

HMRC changed the rules around claiming Travel and Subsistence from 2013, and we find there is still confusion around the new rules.

If someone has an entirely peripatetic working life and their business is run from home, then there are no restrictions on deducting business journeys and related costs against tax – these costs could be:

  • Motoring – on actual costs or mileage
  • Public transport
  • Accommodation for overnight stays
  • Subsistence / meals

By contrast if a Self Employed person has one or more regular places of work other than home then HMRC deem this to be a permanent workplace, and thus the journey is commuting and not eligible for deduction – as home to work travel is never deductible (this broadly puts a Self Employed person in the same position as somebody who is Employed)


Samadian Case

Prior to 2013 the issue didn’t come up very often, only in egregious cases. Then in 2013 HMRC unexpectedly took the Samadian case to tribunal and won. This threw the issue of travel for the Self Employed up in the air, changing the existing status quo. Many people regard it as a bad ruling, but for now at least, its law. Briefly the case was as follows:

  • The Samadian case concerned a doctor travelling from an office at home to private hospitals; the private hospitals were considered “places of work”
  • It was also ruled he had a “place of work” at his home
  • It was held that the travel from home to the private hospitals had duality of purpose – that is to say it was home to work travel as well as business travel – and thus was disallowed as an expense for tax deduction.
  • Travel to private hospitals was distinguished from travel to see patients at their own homes which was allowed
  • “Travel expenses for journeys between home (even where the home is used as place of business) and places of business are treated as non deductible” (quote from tribunal)
  • The Tribunal relied on the principle in Mallalieu v Drummond – this is a case ostensibly about clothing, but also more generally expenses with duality of purpose – those expenses not “wholly and exclusively” for business, and hence disallowed

The tribunal did re-affirm that expenses are allowable for itinerant working. They also said “The ‘wholly and exclusively’ test is to be applied pragmatically and with regard to practical reality”.

Tax Tribunal Decision – Samadian v HMRC – reported decision
Not more travel mix-ups? – this is a useful succinct summary of the case, its progress, and the issues brought up

The law as it stands then, with Samadain being the latest precedent, requires a pragmatic view:

  • Is there a regular place of work with a regular and predictable pattern of attendance?
  • Does the work you carry out at one particular place make it a “place of work”

Broadly the more time you spend at a place, and the less different places you work from, then the more likely that expenses are not deductible.


Pragmatic Approach

This does create practical issues as most people’s circumstances will be a blend of the extremes above – some regularity, but also an itinerant aspect.

Anyway, your judgement here will determine expenses you can claim.

Generally, our advice would be:

  • Travelling to locations where you are employed under PAYE cannot be expensed.
  • Travelling to business premises where you carry out a substantive part of your Self Employed activities cannot be expensed, eg if you own a shop, travelling to the shop.
  • Travelling between business premises can be expensed, eg if you own a number of shops, travelling between them.
  • If your work is mobile, eg a gardener working for a number of clients over the course of each week, then these journeys can be expensed.
  • Miscellaneous trips, eg to the bank, or a supplier, wholesaler, can be expensed.

Remember these rules apply to all travel costs – Public Transport, Own Car, Shared Cars, Accommodation, Subsistence and Meals

Although its not been tested in the tribunals, our view would be that if you need to use a car of van to travel to workplaces as you need to transport more equipment than you can move by hand, then this ought to take you outside of these rules, as clearly the journey then has a purpose of moving equipment from location to location.

See also our separate Guide to Car Costs
Guide to Car Costs