It is reported that there are more than 5m leased vehicles being driven on UK roads, such has been the growth in the popularity of vehicle leasing in recent years.
Historically, businesses and fleet customers dominated the UK vehicle leasing market, but personal vehicle leasing now has the biggest market share, partly fuelled by increased taxation on company cars, while many are now simply choosing vehicle “usership” over ownership.
If you’re a self-employed freelancer or other sole trader considering leasing a vehicle, either wholly or partly for work, you should know the tax implications, chiefly, whether leasing costs can be offset against your profits to reduce your tax bill. This guide answers key questions regarding reporting and paying tax when you lease a vehicle for work if you’re a self-employed contractor, freelancer or sole trader.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The pros and cons of vehicle leasing.
- How vehicle leasing works.
- Whether you can claim vehicle leasing as an allowable expense.
- How to report vehicle leasing costs to HMRC.
Key vehicle leasing advantages
Many contractors, freelancers and sole traders continue to be attracted to the advantages of vehicle leasing. Leasing enables you to drive a newer, perhaps higher-spec vehicle more often than you may otherwise be able to afford. Newer cars are less likely to cause you hassle by breaking down. And you may only have to stump up a relatively small amount upfront to lease a vehicle (although monthly repayments are cheaper the more you put down).
You needn’t worry about value depreciation when you lease because you’re essentially just renting the vehicle. You don’t have to buy at the end of the contract; you can lease a new vehicle, either from the same “lessor” or one that offers a better deal.
Leasing can keep your cash flow healthier because leasing works out cheaper than buying the same vehicle. And growing numbers are leasing as an affordable way to drive more environmentally-friendly vehicles, with high-emission vehicle drivers now having to pay additional charges to enter some UK cities. Free breakdown recovery and Vehicle Excise Duty (aka vehicle tax) are usually included in the deal, too.
Key vehicle leasing disadvantages
What about the disadvantages? Well, the vehicle won’t ever be an asset that you own (that said, according to the AA, new vehicle value depreciates by up to 40% at the end of the first year of ownership anyway). When you lease, you must give the vehicle back at the end of the contract term, unless you have a Personal Contract Purchase deal and make a final payment, which can be many thousands of pounds.
And if you go over the agreed mileage limit (eg 36,000 miles, or 57936 kilometres over three years), you’ll face additional mileage payments at the end of the contract, when you could also have to pay wear-and-tear or repair costs. Moreover, the cost can also be quite high if you want to hand the vehicle back before the contract is up, which isn’t always allowed anyway.
Leasing a vehicle still means having to pay for maintenance and servicing, as well as your own vehicle insurance, of course. A credit check may be carried out when you make your leasing application, which means approval isn’t a given.
Need to know! Leasing may not be the best solution for you. Carefully weigh up the pros and cons and crunch the numbers before deciding whether to lease or buy a vehicle.
How does vehicle leasing work?
Think of leasing as taking out a rental contract or agreement. You (the “lessee”) make a down payment and then make the same monthly payment to the vehicle provider (the “lessor”).
Contract terms can range from two years (24 months) to five years (60 months), with three-year contracts common. The three main car-leasing contract options are:
- Personal Contract Hire – where you make an initial payment followed by monthly payments for a car you hand back at the end of the contract.
- Personal Contract Purchase – where you pay a deposit followed by monthly payments and can choose to make a final “balloon payment” to buy the car at the end of your lease contract (only 20% do this).
- Business Contract Hire – a popular choice for sole traders, partnerships and limited companies. Essentially, it’s a version of Personal Contract Hire that’s tailored to the needs of businesses.
Is leasing a vehicle tax deductible?
Leasing or hiring a car is an allowable expense (ie tax-deductible), but CO2 emissions should be carefully considered when you’re choosing a vehicle to lease. As explained by HMRC: “In some cases, if you lease or hire a car you cannot claim all of the hire charges or rental payments. For example, if you leased a car on or after 6 April 2020 and the CO2 emissions are more than 110g/km, you must disallow 15% of the hire charge or rental cost.”
Need to know! In fact, the rules have changed; from April 2021, you must disallow 15% of hire charges or rental costs if your vehicle’s CO2 emissions are more than 50g/km. For cars leased/hired before 1 April 2021, 110g/km still applies (visit government website GOV.uk for HMRC guidance).
When speaking to vehicle lessors, ask about the tax implications of the vehicle’s CO2 emissions. If you use a lease or hire a vehicle for personal use, you cannot claim this proportion as an allowable expense, you must calculate and deduct it.
As a sole trader or freelancer, each year, you report your vehicle-leasing costs (as well as any other allowable vehicle- and non-vehicle-related expenses) via your Self Assessment tax return (SA100). These will be deducted from your earnings, with other reliefs and allowances accounted for. You then pay Income Tax and any National Insurance contributions that are due.
Need to know! If you’re VAT-registered and lease a car, you can usually claim 50% of the VAT – or all of it if the car is used only for business. VAT-registered businesses can claim all of the VAT charged for maintenance on leased vehicles.
What about “simplified expenses”?
Rather than claim for leasing and other car-related costs (eg insurance, vehicle repairs, servicing, fuel, parking, etc), you could claim simplified expenses, which is a flat-rate scheme that can offer a far simpler way to claim for business-related vehicle use.
If you’re self-employed, each year you can claim a mileage allowance of 45p per business mile for the first 10,000 miles each year and 25p per business mile thereafter. You cannot claim mileage allowance for vans. Leasing costs can be significant, that’s before factoring in other costs, which could mean claiming mileage allowance leaves you worse off.
Need to know! Crunch the numbers before deciding whether to claim simplified expenses, because although it could save you time, it can leave you out of pocket, as leasing costs can be substantial. You cannot claim both simplified expenses and leasing and other actual vehicle costs. For guidance, seek advice from a qualified tax professional.
Government website GOV.uk provides official guidance on expenses you can claim when you’re self-employed, including car, van and travel expenses.
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