HMRC's general rule is that an expense can only be claimed if it is incurred wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the trade. It would therefore seem quite difficult to argue that eating and drinking would fall into this bracket.
However, there are situations where claiming food and drink (subsistence) expenses are allowable. Subsistence costs are linked with travel costs which I'll be covering in a later blog post.
Can I claim whilst photographing a wedding or event?
HMRC will allow the claim if the place to which you have travelled is outside of your normal working pattern and you don't travel to the location more than occasionally. As most photographers either work from home or a studio, this would clearly be the case.
Can I claim for an engagement/lifestyle shoot on location?
The same rules apply but if the shoot is fairly local and, unlike a wedding, only lasts a few hours, it's likely that HMRC would challenge your claim.
How much can I claim?
HMRC state "reasonable costs". This really isn't very helpful so we have to rely on case law.
If you're out all day, it would be perfectly reasonable to claim back the cost of a meal and any drinks purchased at the venue. If you had a long journey, it would be reasonable to grab a sandwich and a drink on the way there or back but bear in mind that expenditure incurred shortly after leaving or shortly before arriving back at home would be challenged.
Can I claim for alcohol?
No, but if you have a glass of wine with your meal, this would be acceptable. Claiming for a bottle of Dom Perignon or 6 pints of lager would be extremely difficult to justify.
Can I claim whilst working at my studio?
No, even if you have to travel some distance to get there. Travelling to your studio wouldn't be outside of your normal working pattern and you will travel there more than occasionally.
Can I claim whilst on a seminar/training course?
Yes, the same rules apply as for working away from home or your studio. However, as I mentioned earlier, travel and subsistence costs are linked. If you can't claim for travel, you can't claim for subsistence. HMRC allow costs incurred for training to update an existing skill (and therefore any related incidental travel and subsistence costs) but not for learning a new skill.
Can I claim when meeting clients?
The answer to this is probably not for yourself and definitely not for your clients. For yourself, it's unlikely you'd have travelled a sufficient distance and been away from your home or studio long enough for a subsistence claim not to be challenged (however travel costs can be claimed). Any food or drink bought for your clients, potential or existing, is classed as entertaining and is not allowable. It may show as an expense in your accounts but is always added back for tax purposes.
Unfortunately, HMRC can leave much open to interpretation. Hopefully, by following these guidelines and applying the principles, you'll find this article helpful.
NOTE: The information contained in this article is of a general nature and is intended only to provide an overview. It is not a substitute for professional advice.