Subsistence costs are one area where HMRC are more generous to employees than the self-employed, so it’s important to know your employment status. Remember, if you’re the director of a limited company, you’re usually classed as an employee.

If you’re self-employed you can claim ‘reasonable’ food and drink costs when you are travelling for business, if:

  • Your business is by nature itinerant (for example, you’re a travelling salesperson)
  • You are making an ‘occasional business journey outside the normal pattern’. For example, you’re a writer who usually works from home and you travel to London to meet a new publisher
  • You need to stay overnight on a business trip. You can then claim the cost of your accommodation and meals away from home

‘Reasonable costs’ aren’t well defined by HMRC, so just apply common sense to your purchases: a gourmet meal wouldn’t be a legitimate business expense, but dinner at a chain restaurant would be.

If you're an employee and travelling for business, you can claim your food, drink and travel costs back from your employer. There is no requirement for the journey to include an overnight stay, or be outside your normal pattern of business travel when you are an employee. But if you take a packed lunch from home on your business trip, the cost of your personal supermarket shop can’t be claimed as an allowable expense.

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