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What business expenses can I claim as a self employed Sole Trader?

What business expenses can I claim as a Sole Trader?, image of a stack of papers | Crunch
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Getting started as a sole trader? As you juggle all the new responsibilities, you’ll also deal with lots of new costs. The good news is that many of these costs can be claimed as business expenses, meaning you’ll pay less tax and get to keep more of your hard-earned money.

It’s easy to forget or lose track of what can and can’t be claimed as sole trader expenses, given all of the different costs you’ll encounter. If you don’t know what you can claim for, you might miss out on opportunities to reduce your taxes and therefore pay more than you need to.

In this article, we’ll be running down most of the expenses you can claim as a self-employed sole trader - along with a handy table that makes it easy to quickly reference what you can or can’t claim. 

Starting a company? We’ve also got a run-down of most of the business expenses you can claim as a limited company, too.


What is tax relief for sole traders?

When you’re self-employed you pay tax (Income Tax) on your trading profits. Allowable business expenses reduce the amount of profit on which sole traders pay Income Tax. So, more allowable expenses means less taxable profit and less Income Tax to pay.

To account for your expenses properly, you need to keep accurate records of everything and add up all your business costs to report on your Self Assessment tax return. Bear in mind that you’re legally bound to keep these records for six years. CrunchONE, our accountancy platform built for sole traders, makes it easy to stay on track. 

As always, HMRC rules can be complex and are often based on concepts such as the ‘fairness’ and ‘reasonableness’ of expenses claimed. When in doubt, always contact an accountant first. If you’re a CrunchONE subscriber, you can get answers from qualified accountants right when you need them.  

This guide will walk you through every allowable expense, but before we do that let’s cover the main things you need to know before you go any further:

  • Certain purchases made for your business are classed as ‘allowable expenses’, which means they are deducted from your profits to reduce your overall income tax liability. 
  • Your expenses should be recorded as accurately as possible, with all receipts kept and filed against the purchases. You’ll then submit them as part of your Self-Assessment tax return.
  • Sole traders can choose to use simplified or flat rate expenses for some costs (home working, living at your business premises and driving a business vehicle.) Other expenses will still need to be logged and filed in the traditional way. 
  • If you expect to claim for less than £1000 worth of costs, consider the trading allowance as an alternative (see more on this below). 

Trading allowance for sole traders

If you don’t expect to spend much on your business in any given year, you can forgo expenses entirely in exchange for something called the ‘trading allowance’. This is often used by people who only run their self-employed business casually and don’t expect to make much profit – but can also be claimed by any sole trader earning over £1,000 per year.

The trading allowance deducts a flat £1000 from your total profits to result in your taxable income. You can’t claim any other business expenses in addition, so it’s only for people who want the simplicity of that flat £1000 reduction and don’t need to claim for other costs. 

If you do want to claim the trading allowance, you can do so via the Self Assessment process. For most ambitious sole traders, however, this relief is not appropriate as you’ll have plenty of expenses to claim for within any tax year. 

What expenses can I claim as a sole trader: our simple chart

Expense type Can a sole trader claim? Notes
Working from home - including rent, repairs, utilities, insurance etc. Yes - partially You can claim for some of the costs involved with WfH, either claiming for a portion of each individual expense or as a flat rate.
Technology - laptops, phones, printers, software Yes You can claim 100% of these costs provided they are for business use
Car insurance and fuel Yes Claim either a flat allowance or a percentage for each mile. See our business mileage article to learn more
Business services such as accountancy, subcontractors, freelancers etc Yes You can claim 100% of these costs provided you have receipts/invoices
Insurance Yes - where relevant 100% deductible, provided the insurance is for work
Meals with clients or suppliers Yes Drinks are not included
Fees such as bank fees, credit cards etc Yes - where relevant If the fee is incurred as part of running your business, it is generally an allowable expense
Clothing No Suits or other formalwear is not an allowable expense
Uniforms or specialist equipment Yes - where relevant If your client or contractor is not already providing specialist equipment or uniforms and you can prove a business need for you to have them, they are 100% deductible
Fines such as parking tickets No Even if the fine is incurred whilst driving your business vehicle, it is not an allowable expense
Charitable donations Yes - with caveats Use Gift Aid to get relief as a sole trader
Clubs and subscriptions Yes - where relevant Only those subscriptions which are appropriate to your business are allowable
Travel Yes - where relevant Only when the travel is wholly and exclusively for business purposes

How to claim self-employed business expenses as a sole trader

As a sole trader, you can claim back any expenses you’ve incurred that relate directly to your self-employed business in much the same way as limited companies

It’s important you understand all the expenses you can claim as allowable business expenses reduce the amount of tax you need to pay HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) when you submit your Self Assessment tax return

The rule of thumb when claiming for any expenses is that you can only claim for expenses which are ‘wholly and exclusively’ incurred in the performance of your duties.

HMRC will normally allow your claim if you meet these conditions. When there are both personal and business elements (i.e. dual purpose) to your claim it’s unlikely to be accepted, because the expense would be needed regardless of the business.

For example, if your monthly mobile phone bill is £50 but you only use your phone 50% of the time for business use, you can only claim for £25 as an expense. Evidencing this may, however, be difficult if the phone contract is not in the name of your business. 

However, if the dual purpose is only incidental because of a business necessity, the claim may still be valid, such as protective work clothes or uniforms that could also be used for personal use.

Unlike limited companies, sole traders are able to use HMRC’s simplified expenses for certain types of business expenses if they wish. This means you can calculate some of your business expenses using flat rates instead of working out your actual business costs.

There’s a simplified expenses checker on Gov.uk which you can use to compare what you can claim using simplified expenses with what you can claim by working out the actual costs.

They can be used for some vehicles, working from home, or for living at your business premises.

Sole traders claim their expenses when they file their annual Self Assessment tax return; this is typically done at the beginning of each year (the deadline is 31st January for online filing), although they can file any time from the end of the previous tax year on 5th April.


How to keep a record of my sole trader business expenses

If before working for yourself you were previously an employee, you may have had to file expenses with your employer. Now you’re the boss you’ll need to do the same for your business (and any employees if you have them).

Keeping track of your expenses such as business mileage is essential, as, without the breakdown of journeys and mileage covered, HMRC could refuse to validate your expense claim. To help determine an estimated figure for your business, we've created a dedicated mileage tax calculator which is simple to use.

We suggest detailing all business mileage on a spreadsheet and keeping it up-to-date throughout the year. If you’re claiming tax relief for fuel when using a car owned by the business, you must keep hold of all of your receipts.

For other business expenses, the cost of anything that’s necessary for the running of your business is a business expense – the trick is to make sure you meticulously record everything so you don’t lose out. Unlike mileage, you’re not limited to a certain amount, within reason.

If you’re not using online accounting software such as Crunch, the best way to keep track of what you’ve spent on supplies and other expenses such as travel and subsistence is, again, in a spreadsheet. 

The main difference is you don’t have to record each item separately – for example, if you have bought 10 packs of 100 pens at £3 each, you can record it as 1000 pens totalling £30.

 It is, however, important to keep the receipts for every separate purchase. Receipts must be kept for six years after you have filed your returns, as HMRC could decide to investigate at any point within this time.

If you’re just away for the day, you can claim lunch costs as an expense if your working day exceeds five working hours, this extends to dinner if you’re working up to ten hours. As always, ensure that you keep receipts for everything. 

It’s also advisable to log all expenses in your accounting software, or on a spreadsheet so that you always have the date and exact costs at hand in case HMRC decides to take a closer look. 

Remember that HMRC takes a dim view of excessive use of taxis, particularly if they appear unnecessary – i.e. it was a very short journey.

Storing receipts can be done in a variety of ways and it’s always best practice to keep the paper copies somewhere safe, as well as backing them up digitally, such as with a picture on your phone (receipts tend to fade, but digital backups will remain pristine forever). 

You can manually scan them or use a mobile app like our Snap app to record the details.

Accountancy fees

You can claim expenses for your businesses accountancy fees, providing the accountant’s time is being spent working on your sole trader accounts.

Accommodation expenses whilst on business travel

Full tax relief can be claimed on accommodation costs, such as an overnight hotel when travelling for business-related purposes, providing the expense is reasonable and not excessive. HMRC will likely question the necessary need for you to stay at the Ritz, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to travel on the breadline.

At Crunch, we’ve developed a mobile app to simplify recording expenses. Through our ‘Snap’ app, you can take a photo and have the details automatically uploaded to your Crunch account.

Bank charges, credit card costs, and other financial charges

Many types of bank charges can be claimed as an allowable business expense, though usually, they should be for accounts or cards in the name of the business. You can claim business costs for:

  • bank, overdraft and credit card charges
  • the interest on business and bank loans (but not repayments of the capital or loan amount)
  • hire purchase interest
  • leasing payments
  • alternative finance payments, for example, Islamic finance.

You can’t claim for repayments of personal loans, overdrafts or finance arrangements.

Business Insurance policies

You can claim for any insurance policy for your business, for example, professional indemnity insurance or public liability insurance, or insurance for your business premises if you have them. 

Find out more about small business insurance - you can even get a discounted quote as a Crunch client or Crunch Chorus member.

Business mileage for sole traders

If you use your personal vehicle for business travel to a temporary work location, you can claim the following rates:

Vehicle Rate Per Mile (On first 10,000 miles in tax year) Rate Per Mile (On each mile over 10,000 miles)
Cars and vans 45p 25p
Motorbikes 24p 24p

Ensure that you keep receipts of everything and a mileage log. Also, be aware that HMRC may query any excessive use of taxis.

See this article on business mileage to learn more. 

HMRC does not allow business mileage to be claimed by sole traders using a bicycle, which is rather unfortunate for those green-minded among you, or even cycle couriers. However, you can claim the cost of buying a bicycle for work and consumables such as tires or maintenance. Any personal use of the bicycle is likely to reduce the amount you can claim. It’s best to speak to an accountant or your local tax office to confirm what you can claim.

Business vehicles

If you’re a self-employed sole trader, then you won’t be able to have a company car, as there is no company. However, you still have a choice of how to claim your business mileage expenses. 

You can either claim the full running costs, such as insurance, repairs and servicing and fuel with a suitable percentage taken off for any personal use of the vehicle. Or, if you prefer, you can make things simpler and just claim HMRCs business mileage rates for the journeys you make.

We usually recommend that sole traders claim business mileage, unless the vehicle is a tool of the trade, such as a van for a delivery driver or a motorbike/moped for a takeaway rider.

If you decide to claim the full costs, you may also be able to claim towards the purchase costs, though this can be complicated as it involves capital allowances, and if you use the vehicle for personal travel as well, it gets even more complex. 

We recommend you speak to an accountant for further details and to help you decide what is the best solution for you.

Business rent, rates and other costs

If you have business premises, you can claim expenses for:

You can’t claim any expenses or allowances for buying business premises (you may be able to if you change to being a limited company), but you’re able to claim certain repair and maintenance costs either as capital allowances or allowable expenses. It’s a complex area for sole traders, we recommend you get individual advice from an accountant.

Charitable donations

For a sole trader business, you and the business are considered the same legal entity. This means that even though you might be making donations from your business bank account, it’s still treated as though you personally donated the money. This means the business won’t get any tax relief.

However, if you donate via Gift Aid the receiving charity can receive 25p tax relief for every £1 that you donate. For a donation to receive Gift Aid, you often need to fill in a specific Gift Aid form for your chosen charity or at least tick a box to indicate that you want Gift Aid to apply.

If you’re a higher rate taxpayer, you can claim back the difference between the tax you pay and the basic rate for the value of your donations. If you donate £100, you can claim back £25.

Childcare costs and expenses

HMRC does not allow childcare as a legitimate business expense. However, sole traders can claim tax relief through the tax-free childcare scheme.

Read our Tax-Free Childcare article for the full details.

Employee expenses as a sole trader

As a sole trader, you’re self-employed, not an employee. But it’s possible for your business to take on an employee, even if you remain as a sole trader.

Many businesses as they grow, may choose to switch from operating as a sole trader to setting up a limited company. There are a number of advantages to running your business as a limited company, but if you choose to remain a sole trader, you can still claim any staff costs as well as business expenses that your employee incurs (provided they meet HMRCs allowable expenses rules and you keep records of everything).

If you have employees, you can claim staff costs including:

  • employee or staff salaries
  • bonuses
  • pensions
  • benefits
  • agency fees
  • subcontractors
  • employer’s National Insurance
  • uniforms for employees
  • training courses.

Eyesight tests and glasses as a sole trader

You can claim for vision tests providing it’s necessary for the initial or continued use of visual display equipment in your duties. However, you’re unable to claim for glasses as they offer a dual purpose and aren’t exclusively related to business use unless they’re prescribed only for use during your time at work for visual display.

Fixed assets such as equipment and office furnishings

The cost of anything that is necessary and essential for your business will receive tax relief. Although these aren’t expenses that reduce profits, you receive capital allowances that decrease the amount of income tax paid. This covers computers, printers, and software. 

You may also claim reasonable relief towards the cost of equipping/furnishing a business office, e.g. chairs, bookcase. This may appear to hold a dual purpose – but it’s usually allowed because the assets are for a room that is used for business purposes.

Still unsure? Our article about working from home as a self-employed person will make things clear. 

General office costs and business purchases

Minor purchases with receipts that are used wholly and exclusively and necessarily in the performance of your duties are claimable. This includes postage, computer consumables, and office stationery.

Legal and other professional fees

As long as they are directly related to your business, legal fees and other professional fees are allowable.

Marketing, advertising, and public relations (PR)

Generating leads and advertising is an important part of running a successful business. You need to make sure that your potential customers know about your products or services, which is where advertising, marketing, and PR comes in.

This may be a one-off cost or an ongoing charge, and as long as the service is exclusively for your business, the cost could be classed as an expense.

These could include:

  • advertising in local or national newspapers
  • paid placements in business directories
  • direct marketing (sending out printed mailshots)
  • website costs
  • costs of a business website domain or getting a business email address.

Medical insurance and health costs for sole traders

Unfortunately for sole traders, health and medical insurance costs can rarely be claimed as an expense.

Pensions for sole traders

As a sole trader, payments to your pension aren’t allowed as an expense, but instead, you can get personal tax relief from contributions you personally make into your own pension scheme.

Professional subscriptions

Professional subscriptions such as membership of a trade body, or registrations needed in order to enable you to trade are allowable, provided they’re HMRC approved professional bodies which are relevant to your employment. If it’s not directly relevant, then it’s not allowed – so no attempting to sneak a local golf club membership through expenses if you’re a plumber. 

Telephone, mobile & broadband expenses for sole traders

If you’re using a home or mobile phone line for both business and personal calls, you can’t claim for line rental because there is a dual purpose, i.e. the expenses aren’t exclusively for business purposes.

However, you may claim expenses for the business phone calls used on that line, provided they can be identified on the phone bill. Alternatively, you could set up a separate phone line or mobile contract in the business name which is used 100% for business.

The same approach is taken when determining the allowable expenses associated with broadband.

The use of your home as an office when you're self-employed

If it’s necessary for you to work at home and not just for conducting additional work outside of the office, you’re entitled to claim your allowable home expenses as a business cost.

If you work from home, you have two choices: you can choose to claim flat rate expenses, or you can work out your actual costs by calculating the proportion of personal and business use for your home, i.e. how much of your utility bills are for business and the number of rooms you use. Gov.uk has a simplified expenses checker to help you decide which method is best for you.

The main method is known by HMRC as simplified expenses, which uses a flat rate based on the hours you work from home each month. The flat rate doesn’t include telephone or internet expenses. You can claim the business proportion of these bills by working out the actual costs when you submit your tax return.

You can only use simplified expenses if you work for 25 hours or more a month from home.

If you want to use a more complex method by calculating the proportion of home running costs used when working from home and running your business, please seek advice from your accountant.

For more useful info on claiming home office and telephone expenses, check out our article “Working from home? What you can and can’t claim as an expense”.

Training expenses for sole traders

The cost of work-related training courses is allowable if it relates to the trade being carried out by the business, so a course to enhance your existing knowledge which relates to your trading activity will be allowable. However, a course to retrain you with a new skill to enable you to branch out into new sectors or offer a new service will not be allowable.

It’s therefore important to demonstrate that the training is directly related to the income, which is currently being generated by your business.

Travel and subsistence expenses for sole traders

You can claim for travel expenses as long as that travel is wholly and exclusively for business purposes and isn’t a regular commute to a base of operations. However, occasional trips to the same place are still claimable. 

This specifically works in favour of ‘itinerant’ workers. Itinerant workers are sole traders who have no specific base of operations and have work locations that vary from job to job.

Expenses relating to airfares, train tickets and ferries can also be covered under business travel, provided the above points are applied and the travel is for business purposes.

Tolls, congestion charges, and parking fees are all allowable expenses, where the travel is for business. However, you can’t claim a parking fine as a business expense.

You can claim for the cost of hotel rooms and meals on overnight business trips.

HMRC accepts that extra allowable costs for food and drink may be incurred where the nature of your business is ‘itinerant’ (for example, a construction worker who works in a different location every week). However, these rules are complex and you should seek advice from an accountant to see if these apply to your business.

Work uniform or protective clothing

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, you can’t claim for a nice suit or dress as it may have a private use. However, if you need a uniform for your business, perhaps a t-shirt or hoodie with your business name and logo on, or if you need special protective clothing such as steel toe-cap boots, you’re able to claim for the costs. 

If you’re an actor or entertainer and need a costume, you can also claim for that, but not for any everyday clothing.

Get CrunchOne and make expenses easier

CrunchOne is a tool built for sole traders just like you. It helps you track expenses, log receipts and accurately submit your tax returns – making the entire process nice and simple. Click here to give it a go.

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Jake Smith
Content Strategy Manager
Updated on
April 3, 2024

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