Doctor, the taxman will see you now...

20 October 2015

Andrew Hubbard 

If you work for yourself the general rule is that you are not allowed tax relief on your home to work travel. The reason for this, at least in the eyes of the taxman, is that the object of your journey is not actually to travel to work, but to enable you to live away from where you work!

But what happens if you actually work at home? That was the issue in the latest of a line of cases about travel expenses of self-employed doctors. This particular doctor, an anaesthetist, undoubtedly did some administrative work at home and was contacted there by other doctors, but, reassuringly, he carried out the actual anaesthetic procedures at local hospitals. So the question was not whether he had a place of business at home: rather it was whether he also had a place of business elsewhere. The evidence was that he had 'regular and predictable' attendance at two hospitals. That was enough to make them places of business, with the result that his journeys there and back from home were not business journeys. Journeys between these two hospitals, and from home to other hospitals which he attended only sporadically, were, by contrast, business journeys and the cost was tax deductible.

To be entitled to relief for home to work travel somebody has to establish that he is 'itinerant'. That is a rather old-fashioned term which has echoes of door to door salesmen and it is hard to see how it is a useful term in a modern context. But what this decision shows, yet again, is that everything is dependent on the facts. In this particular case the conclusion seems, on the basis of the facts as reported, to be reasonable. But what if he had regularly attended five hospitals? or 10? As ever in anything to do with tax, trying to find hard and fast boundaries is rather like nailing jelly to the wall!

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