Finance insights 6 min read

The HMRC 24 month rule: what, why, & how it works

Patrick Whatman

Travel between offices and worksites is a normal cost of doing business for some workers. But the cost and inconvenience of leaving your usual surroundings can quickly add up.

To reflect this, HMRC offers tax relief on travel expenses to a non-permanent place of work. But it’s not available in certain circumstances - specifically when the famous “24 month rule” applies.

As with all things tax, the regulations are a little murky and hard to understand. So in this article, we’ll explain the fundamentals of the 24 month rule, when it applies, and what to do if you think it affects you.

Let’s dive in.

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The HMRC 24 month rule

The 24 month rule is a specific condition that lets you claim travel expenses for trips between your home and your client’s offices or a “temporary workplace”. The idea behind it is that visiting a client’s workspace - as opposed to your own HQ - requires special travel and can lead to undue costs.

This travel should not be part of your standard commute; HMRC sees travel to a temporary workplace to be a business expense, unlike commuting.

The rule exists to help define what is (and isn’t) a temporary workplace. In order to set clear guidelines and limit abuse of this tax exemption, HMRC created a (relatively) simple test to figure out whether a site is temporary or not.

Put simply: if the conditions of the 24 month rule are met, you’re dealing with a permanent workplace.

So what are those conditions?

How the 24 month rule works

The 24 month rule has two key conditions. In order for the rule to apply - and for a business to NOT be able to claim this travel expense - both of these must be met:

  1. The employee must have spent or be likely to spend more than 40% of their working time at a workplace, AND;
  2. They must attend it or be likely to attend it over a period lasting more than 24 months.

If you meet both of these criteria, you cannot claim tax relief on your travel expenses to and from a workspace. In other words, if you spend 40% of your time in an office or onsite for more than 24 months, this is a permanent place of work.

Important extras to factor in

Here are a few key considerations to keep in mind as you apply for tax relief:

  • As soon as you become aware that a contract will last longer than 24 months, you must stop claiming relief. So if you know on day one that this will be a two-year contract, you’ll never be able to claim.
  • 24 months is the total calendar period in question, and not the actual amount of time you spend working with a client. So if you work two days a week with them starting January 1, or if you work six months on and then six months, you’ll reach 24 months on January 1 two years from now. This is the case even if you sign new contracts along the way.
    • The 40% rule (above) applies, however. So a 15-month break (60% of any two-year period) would be enough to ensure that the 24 month rule doesn’t apply.
  • If the length of the contract is unclear, you can claim tax relief if it’s assumed that the agreement won’t last 24 months or more.
  • It’s possible to have more than one permanent workplace. If the 24 month rule is met, the workplace is permanent, even if the rule can also be met in other workplaces.
  • Tax relief is not available for private travel. That is travel to any place that an employee doesn’t need to be for work purposes.

Examples from HMRC

HMRC itself has published a very helpful (but very long) guide to employee travel. In its section on the 24 month rule, you’ll find good examples to illustrate the rules:

Chris has worked for 5 years at her employer’s head office in Warrington. She is sent by her employer to perform duties at a branch office in Wigan for 18 months, after which she expects to return to work in Warrington.

As Chris’ attendance at the temporary workplace in Wigan is expected to last less than 24 months, tax relief is available for the full cost of her travel between home and the temporary workplace.

 

Duncan has worked for his employer in Sheffield for 10 years and is sent to help out at the employer’s Rotherham branch for 28 months. There is no tax relief for the cost of travel to and from the workplace. This is because he will be spending more than 40% of his working time there and his attendance is known from the outset to be for more than 24 months so the workplace is a permanent workplace. His home to work travel is therefore ordinary commuting for which no relief is available.

 

Richard has worked for his employer for 3 years. He is sent to perform full-time duties at a workplace for 18 months. After 10 months the posting is extended to 28 months. Tax relief is available for the full cost of travel to and from the workplace during the first 10 months (while his attendance is expected to be for less than 24 months), but not after that (once his attendance is expected to exceed 24 months).

 

Sarah has worked for her employer for 7 years and is sent to perform full-time duties at a workplace for 28 months. After 10 months the posting is shortened to 18 months. No tax relief is available for the cost of travel to and from the workplace during the first 10 months (while her attendance is expected to exceed 24 months), but tax relief is available for the full cost of travel during the final 8 months (once her attendance is no longer expected to exceed 24 months).

The HMRC guide contains plenty more excellent examples - read chapter 3!

What is a travel expense?

Remember, the 24 month rule prevents employees from receiving tax relief on travel expenses related to temporary workplaces. That means, in order to claim such relief, you need to actually have incurred travel expenses.

We’ve already written a guide to defining reimbursable expenses for employees. But in this case, we’re talking more about expenses that are not reimbursed by an employer.

To help, here’s a very useful breakdown from the team at Larsen Howie:

Travel expenses in the UK

Travel expenses for employees are tax-deductible when certain conditions are met, for example:

  • The employee personally pays their own expenses without reimbursement from their employer;
  • The employer reimburses travel expenses paid for by the employee;
  • The employer pays the costs directly on the employee’s behalf;
  • The cost is met by vouchers, e.g. travel tickets, or credit tokens are provided to the employee; or
  • The travel facilities, such as accommodation, are provided directly to the employee.

Travel expenses include not only the actual cost of the business journey but all other associated costs, such as food and accommodation, toll fees, car parking and vehicle hire charges.

Manage travel expenses the smarter way

Manoeuvring HMRC's 24 month rule, mileage rates, and trivial benefits (as just a few examples) takes practice, patience, and know-how. But keeping track of your team's travel costs and receipts only requires good tools. 

Spendesk's mobile app makes on-the-go expenses simple, and our smart cards and even smarter software are best-in-class. Learn more about how we fix company spending here.

And if you're not quite ready for that, here's a great (free!) workbook to plan and manage your next work trip, near or far:

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More articles dealing with HMRC's rules and regulations: 

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Patrick Whatman

Patrick Whatman is a content marketer and writer. He lives in Paris, loves music, and writes his own brand of cultural criticism for fun. Tweet him @mrwhatman where he mainly talks digital marketing, American sports and New Zealand trivia.