Alison Birch, Mitchell Charlesworth

Member Article

VAT Update for Employers - Business Gifts, Staff Parties and Business Entertainment – December 2019

The area of entertainment and gifts always seems to raise questions for businesses about what can, and cannot, be reclaimed. In this article, Mitchell Charlesworth’s VAT partner Alison Birch looks at three areas (Business Gifts, Staff Parties and Business Entertaining) where VAT can become complicated and outlines, using examples, the best ways to manage these issues in your own firm.

Business Gifts:

This can be a grey area and what you may consider advertising and promotion, HMRC may consider to be a gift, so make sure that you don’t get caught out by HMRC’s Business Gift rules.

For VAT purposes, an article is a gift where the donor is not obliged to give it and the recipient is not obliged to do or give anything in return. Business gifts can cover a whole host of items, such as:

  • Branded golfing umbrellas
  • Diaries and desk calendars
  • Wine and champagne
  • Selection boxes
  • Flowers.

VAT can be claimed on these items and so long as the total cost of all of the business gifts to a particular recipient, in a twelve month period, does not exceed £50 excluding VAT (the cost to the donor), no VAT has to be brought to account by the donor.

Where the cost to the donor of business gifts in a twelve month period exceeds £50, output tax becomes due on the total cost of all of the gifts.


Generous Employer Ltd gives staff small business gifts throughout the year, including a huge chocolate egg at Easter (costing £15), flowers on their birthday (costing £20) and a luxury hamper at Christmas (costing £40). Although all of the gifts individually cost less than £50, the total gift to each staff member exceeds £50, so the donor must pay VAT to HMRC on the total cost.

It is worth noting that the business gift rules also apply to:

  • Long service awards
  • Retirement gifts to staff
  • Prizes for competitions.

An important point to note when considering gifts, is that gift vouchers have specific VAT rules and are treated differently to other gifts because they are not seen as goods. Please get in touch if you deal with vouchers as the rules are complex and changed in January 2019.

Staff Parties:

Staff parties are as popular as ever to keep staff motivated.

You may be aware that there are strict rules concerning VAT recovery on business entertainment (see below), however, hospitality provided for staff does not fall within the input tax blocking order. HMRC consider it to be a ‘motivational’ business expense, and input tax can be claimed, subject to normal rules.

However, where non-staff members attend the party (i.e. partners of the staff) for free, this input tax must be blocked in full. Where a charge is made to non-staff members input tax can be recovered in full for the event, however output tax must be declared on the charge made to the non-staff member.

Businesses which choose to entertain only directors or partners do not benefit from input tax recovery under ‘staff entertaining’. HMRC consider that these individuals do not need to be rewarded or motivated with entertainment! However, HMRC do concede that when these individuals attend a staff party, input tax can be recovered in full.

Business Entertainment:

Many businesses offer clients, contacts and suppliers hospitality and entertainment to thank them for their support and loyalty. Business entertainment means entertainment, including hospitality of any kind, provided by a taxable person in connection with a business carried on by him.

Business entertainment includes:

  • Meal and/or drinks
  • Hotel accommodation
  • Entry to a sporting event
  • Theatre or concert tickets.

Input tax on business entertainment is specifically blocked. Furthermore, where your employees act as ‘hosts’ to non-employees, HMRC consider that the entertainment of the employees is incidental to the business entertainment and the related input tax is also blocked.


SportMad Ltd invites ten of their best clients to The Grand National. In order to ensure that their clients are well looked after, some staff are also invited to attend. The input tax on the costs incurred are blocked under the business entertainment provisions.

If you invite staff to reward them rather than to act as hosts, it would be possible to apportion the VAT to reclaim the element that relates to staff entertainment.


As a reminder, a VAT invoice is required to support input tax deduction. However, in some circumstances HMRC may accept alternative evidence if a VAT invoice has not been supplied by the employee. Please do get in contact if you would like to know more about this.

The information provided in this article should be used as a guide. If you would like further details on any of the topics raised, please do not hesitate to contact Alison Birch

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Anne Griffiths .

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