Is leasing a car tax deductible?

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Date: 7 March 2022

A car dealer shaking hand with a man who has leased a car

Reportedly, there are more than five million 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 contractor, 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

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 than you might 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 the depreciation in the vehicle's value when you lease, because you’re essentially just renting the vehicle. You don't have to buy the vehicle 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 help maintain a healthy cash flow 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.

Vehicle leasing: disadvantages

What about the disadvantages? Well, the vehicle won't ever be your asset (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 over three years), you'll face additional mileage payments at the end of the contract in the form of 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 this is a version of personal contract hire that's tailored to the needs of businesses)

Is leasing a vehicle tax deductable?

Leasing (or hiring) a car is an allowable expense (ie tax deductable), 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."

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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 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 vehicle for personal use, you cannot claim this proportion as an allowable expense, you must calculate and deduct it.

As a sole trader or self-employed contractor 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.

Sponsored post. Copyright 2022. Featured article by Mike Parkes of GoSimpleTax - tax return software that can help you manage your self assessment.

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