Regardless which sector or industry you work in, everybody has version of a ‘work wardrobe’, whether this is a version of their everyday look, a set of uniforms, personal protective equipment or a selection of suits or smart attire. If you are a limited company director, or sole trader, can you claim work clothes as an expense against your tax bill?
What you can’t claim for
Work clothes are seen as having two primary functions:
1. To keep you warm and to cover your modesty
2. To ensure that you have the appropriate ‘look’ for your particular job
As work clothes have this dual purpose, defining what can and can’t be offset against tax becomes tricky. Wearing clothes is an everyday necessity for most of us, and most of what we wear for work we can and do wear in other contexts.
To try and make this clearer, HRMC’s rules about claiming work clothes as expenses are structured around the idea of an ‘everyday wardrobe’. If you could include anything you wear for work as part of your ‘everyday wardrobe’, even if you choose not to wear them outside of work, these items cannot be claimed as expenses.
You can find out more about HMRC’s interpretation of what an ‘everyday wardrobe’ consists of in BIM37910.
What you can claim for
For the small print on clothing-related expenses, first read the index page of HMRC’s Employment Income Manual EIM32450.
If your company requires you to wear a uniform to facilitate your job or to make it very clear exactly what you do while you are at work, any money you spend on items of uniform can be claimed back as an expense.
This is relevant to various professions such as self-employed agency nurses and private dentists. If these uniforms need to be cleaned or repaired, it is even possible to claim these costs as expenses and receive tax relief on these payments too. This will only apply to the uniform itself though; tax relief will not extend to accompanying items such as socks, tights or shoes. See EIM32476.
It is worth noting that this does not include clothing which you have chosen to have branded to your business. If you have T-shirts printed with the company logo, for example, or provide employees with embroidered polo shirts, these do not count as uniforms. There may, however, be a way that these can still be claimed as expenses towards publicity and marketing costs.
Personal protective equipment
The allowances for uniforms also apply to any personal protective equipment which is essential to keeping you safe while you carry out your job.
For example, construction businesses whose employees need to wear helmets, steel toe-capped boost and high-visabilty vests on site can claim these costs against their business tax bills. Again, this rule does not extend to any of the clothing worn under the protective equipment, as this is not considered uniform but rather part of the employee’s everyday wardrobe. See EIM32471.
People working in the entertainment industry can put the costumes they buy to wear on stage down as expenses, as long as these are clothes which you can prove you would not wear in any other capacity.
The Swedish pop band ABBA famously used this clause in Swedish law, ensuring that the costumes they wore to perform were so outrageous that they couldn’t possibly wear them outside of performances. This allowed them to claim tax relief against the money they paid for the costumes, which they would not have been able to do had they worn more ‘normal’ clothing.
Claiming work clothing as an expense is a grey area. There are many types of work clothing which may not have been listed above but which could be considered legitimate business expenses.
If you think you may have a case for claiming work clothing as a business expense to offset your tax payments, it is worth speaking to your accountant. They will be able to advise you on your specific situation and let you know whether you are able to claim these expenses or not.
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