Mileage Expenses, HMRC Compliance
Did you know that one of new customers contacted us because an HMRC crackdown on mileage expenses cost them £34,000 per driver…
If you have been reading any of the fleet and finance press you will have probably seen the various articles and features on the importance of accurate mileage expenses and the subsequent HMRC crack down.
Whether you have read the articles or not this simple guide aims to clarify some of the myths associated with the subject of mileage expenses, as well as outlining the potential pit falls you need to avoid. Most importantly however, we will show you the quick and simple things you can do to become compliant. And to prevent costly mistakes
Note: This guide is not supposed to be a detailed financial analysis of mileage expenses using all the associated jargon. It is however a simple guide for the layman.
What’s all the fuss about then?
Simple: if your mileage expenses are non-compliant or you/your drivers have been over estimating then it could cost you around £18k per driver.
Fact: HMRC are having a crackdown on business mileage expenses. There are hundreds of organisations big and small falling foul to this crack down with fines/penalties often eye watering in their size and scale.
How big are the penalties?
We will cover this in more detail below in the payment section but our experience is they can range from £5,000 per vehicle to more than £30,000, dependent upon a number of Key factors.
Why the HMRC Crackdown?
To try and put an often complex scenario into simple terms lets step through the key points regarding HMRC and their particular interest in Mileage claims.
HMRC want you to pay the right amount of tax.
Business mileage expenses can take many forms (see mileage rates below) however under most circumstances reimbursement for mileage is tax free. Often the catalyst for an investigation from HMRC is where they believe that mileage has been overpaid due to overestimation and fraud. The problem with overpayment of mileage is that monies have effectively been paid to an employee without the relevant rate of tax being applied
To give a simple example if a driver has been overestimating business mileage by 20% on 20,000 annual business miles then they have effectively been paid for 4000 miles tax free.
Below is a simple example of a 40% tax payer using an AFR of 17pence per mile:
- 4000 miles at 17 pence = £680
- Tax, Employees NI and Employers NI that should have been paid = £379.44 (approx)
- Tax that could have accumulated over the last 6 years = £2,276.64 (approx)
The quick calculation above is the same basic calculation an HMRC inspector will make to quickly understand the size of the prize/problem
This calculation is only representative of one driver… Now consider this if your employ 100 drivers. Suddenly you are in a position where you could owe backdated tax equating to around £200,000
Let’s not forget the interest.
On top of the Tax you owe you will also have to pay the interest dating back to the year in which the tax should have been paid. This can soon add up.
The sting in the tail. The penalties
Once HMRC has made their calculations based on the tax owed and also the interest this is where the next part comes in… the penalties.
The penalties are the price you pay for getting it wrong and a fairly severe reminder to make sure you don’t lose focus in the future.
The HMRC Penalty Process is as Follows
HMRC calculate penalties as a percentage of the additional tax due. This will be calculated when the inaccuracy is corrected. The additional tax due is called the potential lost revenue.
HMRC measure the potential lost revenue differently where the inaccuracy results in an overstated loss.
The penalty rates for inaccuracies can be
- up to 30 per cent of the potential lost revenue if the inaccuracy is careless
- up to 70 per cent of the potential lost revenue if the inaccuracy is deliberate
- up to 100 per cent of the potential lost revenue if the inaccuracy is deliberate and the person attempts to conceal it
There is no penalty if a person can demonstrate they have taken reasonable care to get their tax right, but despite this, submit an incorrect return.
The percentages are stepped and are higher when the underlying behavior causing the inaccuracy is more serious. Penalties are significantly higher for those who deliberately try not to pay the right amount of tax to obtain an unfair advantage.
So as you can see for the above, once the “potential lost revenue” has been worked out the penalty can then be calculated based on your behaviors and if the problem is fraudulent or accidental. Using the example above the tax owed plus the penalty could now be anything from: [highlight1]£230k to £400k[/highlight1]. When you consider you may also get stung from the business record checks legislation this number could even rise to nearly £2million
What is the typical process to expect with HMRC?
The process for an organisation or individual who is under investigation for mileage compliance issues can be incredibly time consuming and particularly onerous. In this section we will take you through the steps that might be taken and give you an idea of the pain you face.
The Letter on your doorstep
The first you may know about an investigation into your mileage, is when a letter arrives stating that HMRC believes your mileage records are non-compliant. Within the letter there will be a fairly scary number of the tax “potential lost revenue” that HMRC believe is owed. Depending on the size of your organisation however you may be aware of this well before the letter arrives.
The chances are that HMRC will not have come to this conclusion unless they are reasonably confident that there is a problem so will normally have done quite a bit of ground work prior to the claim.
This is where the hard work will begin as its now over to you to gather together all the information you can to disprove their claims or at very least get to the bottom of the true value of the tax that is owed.
Guilty until proven innocent.
HMRC will want to see detailed mileage records that show each and every trip that has been claimed, where it started, where it ends, the mileage the reason and the address details. For some organisations this is just not possible. If an employee is only ever required to submit a consolidated monthly claim it is quite possible they will not have kept a detailed record of all their journeys and will have to go through years of diary entries to prove their mileage.
It is also highly likely that some of your drivers have been less than honest and actually a full audit of mileage claims will open up a potential can of worms that proves fraud within your driver population.
Then you also have the disruption this will cause particularly for those who have been completely honest, this can be seen as a bit of a witch hunt. We have seen drivers instantly quit when the questioning begins. Sometimes this prevents dishonesty from being uncovered sometimes it’s just the final straw.
The simple fact is that for many organisations it is simply impossible to collate all the required information to challenge HMRC.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t… The dichotomy of a mileage claim.
The problem that many organisations face is twofold. Firstly do you have enough detailed information and secondly if you do have enough detailed data then what surprises are lurking within the detail.
Take this example: If your mileage records are poor and do not show enough information for a full audit then how do you prove what has been going on. If the records are indeed too poor for an audit then HMRC can use the legislation drawn out in the business record checks http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/dealingwith/bus-record-checks.htm and you will end up paying a penalty and of course unpaid tax.
On the other hand you may have exemplary business mileage records however the actual data entered is not reviewed. This could result in HMRC finding discrepancies in the mileage that has been entered and the actual journeys undertaken. One example we found where the claims process was good resulted in a driver submitting a 610 mile trip from reading to Gloucester a trip normally around 75 miles. Now this could have been a simple typo but the driver was paid the full amount.
HMRC will now have all the ammunition they require to show that significant overestimation or even fraud has been going on. We will cover this in more detail later but the only way to truly stop this is with a fool proof process for both entering the data and for management approval of the journeys. Something many companies are simply not doing properly.
You owe HMRC money, what next?
The next step for HMRC is to work out how much you owe them. This will be based on the tax owed, the penalty that that is applied, the interest for the period and quite simply how nice you are.
There is simply no point in hiding documents, being elusive, being rude or threatening. All these behaviors will work against you and will increase the penalty you pay. Remember Al Capone could challenge virtually any criminal organisation and escaped the clutches of the police regularly. It was the tax man however who brought him to justice. Best to be up front, apologetic and incredibly nice. Alternatively employ someone who really knows what they are doing and knows how far they can push things. In other words employ a good accountant.
Can I get away with not paying?
The short answer… NO afraid not.
However you may be able to suspend the penalty you owe. To suspend a payment is a bit like a suspended sentence. You have to be a very good boy/girl, put all the measures in place to prove you are being behaving and have your probation officer keep an eye on your affairs.
HMRC or your accountant will be able to advise you on your suspended payments and whether it is possible or not.
You may be able to negotiate a payment plan as well. This will allow you to spread the payments over an agreed period, however you will need to prove why the payments should be spread and have evidence to back it up. HMRC do not want to put you out of business or bankrupt you so some leniency will be given if you have a good reason.
Your risk rating
One thing to consider with all of this is the impact this kind of activity has on your reputation. We are not talking about your reputation in the neighbourhood but your reputation with HMRC.
Each and every tax payer effectively has a risk rating with HMRC, if you have been caught out before then your rating worsens. This simply means you are more likely to fall foul of a future investigation for one reason or another.
As you can see the consequences for inaccurate mileage can be quite considerable and if you have been reading and thinking that sounds like me you should do something about it now. The next section will help you understand what to do.
If you do recognise yourself you are not alone and that why this is an area where HMRC have decided to crack down.
HMRC are cracking down on mileage as its easy fishing. They understand that so many businesses have got it wrong and it’s easy to find some who have got it very wrong all they have to do is drop the bait in the right places. The key thing is that you put in all the necessary changes that when HMRC come fishing they find it easier in another part of the pond. That’s the end of that metaphor I promise.
Compliant mileage claims – The solution
We have discussed in detail the problem with inaccurate, fraudulent, incomplete and non-compliant mileage expenses. In this section we will cover what you should and should not do and how to fix any problems you might have.
What should a complaint claim and claim process look like?
Let’s start with the process as that’s fairly simple to quickly explain.
The key thing with a mileage expenses process is that due care and attention is placed on accuracy of the claim data and that someone makes an effort to approve mileage claims or at very least make regular spot checks.
- Put a mileage policy in place. You need to be completely certain that your drivers are clear on the policy for what can and can’t be claimed, the code of conduct they must follow and the consequences for getting it wrong. Be sure to remove ambiguity and make it clear that if you see mileage fraud as gross misconduct… a sacking offence. Mileage overestimation is after all stealing and should be considered in that way.
- Provide a clear, compliant and concise form or system for your employees to enter their mileage and make sure that each month there is a clear cut-off date for when the mileage should be completed. Saving up 6 months of mileage is not good for anyone, is difficult to budget and should not be tolerated.
- Make sure that all the relevant data is submitted through to a manager for approval. Think about the terminology here, does your boss sign your mileage or check your mileage. A signature takes seconds and required no time input. Checking mileage requires someone to look over the claim and check it for accuracy. We are not saying you go over it with a fine tooth comb but at least see if it makes sense, is it really 610 miles from Reading to Gloucester for example.
What makes a compliant claim?
Well here is the interesting part; nowhere on HMRC’s website does it categorically state what makes a claim compliant or non-compliant, well not that we can find anyway. All is not lost however as we have pulled together a list of the Key areas from HMRC letters to companies and individuals.
Want to check your mileage expenses compliance? Then take our compliance quiz here.
The Key Things to look For to Ensure a Claim is Compliant
- Do you or your drivers include the date of travel?
- Do you or your drivers include where the journey starts?
- When completing a claim do you or your drivers include the place and/or company visited?
- Do you and your drivers include the start and closing mileage?
- Do you/your drivers show the total business miles?
- Are claims regularly checked for accuracy?
What are the most common mistakes?
In our experience the mistakes that companies make are wide and varied however there are a few that really stand out.
We often hear statements such as “we won’t get caught”, “our sales team are too busy to complete a claim”, “our policy was looked at 3 years ago by HMRC and its fine”, “we have an expenses system that takes care of it.”
Just because you have a raft of excuses it does not mean you are immune from the legislations.
- Not all expenses systems are equal and not all of them are designed for UK legislation. Check that yours is.
- Let the sales team moan. Better to spend an extra 20 minutes a month than risk the company’s future. After all an accurate overview of each journey might explain why the good sale people succeed and the poor ones don’t.
- Just because it was fine 3 years ago it does not mean it will be today. Things move on, governments change and so does the legislation
Lack of Understanding:
Too many businesses don’t understand the rules and unfortunately it’s not surprising as they certainly aren’t clear. This guide was put together as we meet so many organisations who get it wrong. It has taken years of experience to pull this together and we still learn something new every day. Hopefully this information will arm you with most of the tools you need to get it right.
It never ceases to amaze us the amount of managers who admit “we let them claim a bit of extra mileage it makes up for the poor pay” This is not an excuse and certainly not something that will wash with HMRC. Want to pay your employees more? Then do it properly and pay the relevant taxes or you can expect trouble.
What steps should you take to fix your problems?
The key thing with non-compliant mileage expenses is that it can be fixed going forward however you do need to understand that if you have been non-compliant for some time you may still be liable for previous years.
Fix process and the policy
To ensure you are compliant you need to fix both your mileage policy and also the process for collecting the data.
Note: HMRC want people to come forward when they think there is a problem with their tax affairs, they have failed to meet a requirement, or committed a wrongdoing. So if you come forward before HMRC contact you they can reduce your penalty, in some cases they can reduce it to zero. http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/dealingwith/penalties-hmrc-charge.htm
The mileage expenses policy: It’s important your policy is related to your own situation and your organisations unique circumstances. Think about the following:
- What information is required by your organisation for a claim to be complete?
- When should claims be submitted?
- What happens if claims are not submitted on time?
- Who will approve mileage?
- What mileage rates will be used?
- How will you check drivers are using the correct rate?
- Will you be using a fuel card? What are the rules around the usage?
- What are the consequences for fraud?
- How regularly will you audit mileage?
- What happens when someone get s a new car?
- What happens if cars are shared by employees?
- What happens to pool car mileage?
- Outline the HMRC[highlight1]*[/highlight1] lesser than rules.
- Make it clear what you can and can’t claim
- What happens when someone is leaving the business?
[highlight1]* Some business journeys will involve travelling to a location directly from home without visiting your office or base. Some journeys will involve returning home at the end of the working day without visiting your office or base. Many businesses use the “lesser than rule” meaning you claim whichever is lesser: The actual mileage that you travelled from your home to the location OR the mileage that you would have claimed if you had travelled from your base to the location.[/highlight1]
UPDATE: Know Your Customer
HMRC has been undertaking their “Know Your Customer” campaign. Here we cover what KYC is all about.
Toward the beginning of the year HMRC launched a new methodology to target Employer Compliance reviews on certain key clients. In recent years HMRC have been focusing their compliance activity on single specific areas of risk e.g.:
- Employment Status
- Termination payments
- Construction Industry
- Share schemes
Although successful this fragmented approach has not produced the yields required and has led HMRC towards a new compliance initiative named “Know Your Customer”
Firstly I have to commend HMRC on the name Know Your Customer. Like all of you I am a regular customer of everything from wine at Waitrose to energy from British Gas. Unlike HMRC however I can’t think of any other service where I don’t have a choice who supplies this service. (let me know if you can)
What’s KYC All about?
HMRC has recruited a wide range of individuals from a variety of industries with experience and familiarity of taxation and working practices within those industries. In a kind of poacher becomes gamekeeper way, these “Compliance Champions” have started writing to large businesses (starting with the top 2000) to request a meeting as part of the KYC regime.
The letter will essentially invite you to a meeting in your offices where all the key stakeholders in your business may be required to attend. Specifically they will be looking for the key personnel from Payroll, HR, Reward, Mobility, Fleet, Payroll, Finance and Tax.
Prior to their visit they will expect you to forward copies of your policies for a wide range of areas including but not necessarily limited to:
- Expenses and details of the process maps that support their audit
- Benefits, any salary sacrifice communications and the process maps governing P11D completion
- Redundancy, relocation and termination policies
- Incentive arrangements, bonus and share plans and the processes governing tax deductions
- International assignments and the processes for tracking short term business visitors
KYC In a nutshell…
- HMRC are going to write to you informing you of a visit.
- You need to make sure your management team and other key stakeholders are available.
- You will need to have all your policies and procedures in place
- You need to be prepared to share these.
- You will be questioned about policies and procedures.
- If these are not up to scratch or departments show lack of cohesiveness then this will be a red flag
- HMRC will want to investigate further if they have concerns
- If HMRC find issues then they may start proceedings.
- You may end up paying back taxes, interest or penalties if problems are uncovered.
Business Mileage and Its Importance in KYC
Business mileage is a universal expense that for many organisations (when linked with fuel) is the largest single employee expense that is likely to be regularly claimed.
The claimants of business mileage in the UK range widely from the smallest business or sole trader to the largest business or public sector organisation. One area that is often forgotten is that business mileage is not necessarily related to those who drive company cars. Known as Grey Fleet, employees driving their own vehicles can dwarf company car fleets and can be particularly prevalent in certain business sectors.
When you consider other expenses and benefits there is often a clearly defined process and form to fill in (P11D/P11D(b), P9D, P46(Car) being just a few) With mileage however there is no such form. As a result the range and depth of mileage claimants in the UK is so varied there is no single universal rule for mileage claims but instead a series of recommendations and authorised payments that employers can choose to adjust slightly dependent upon individual and corporate circumstances.
In our own research we have discovered a variety of different mileage rates ranging from just 10 pence per mile to well over £1 per mile with as many as 16 distinct ways that an employee can be reimbursed for business mileage (Pay and Reclaim) or reimburse their employer for private mileage (Drive and Refund).
It is therefore no surprise that many organisations get mileage wrong and leave themselves open to scrutiny by HMRC.
The long and short of it.
As far as Know Your Customer is concerned, mileage is not the be all and end all and only makes up a fraction of the total review. Mileage is however an important element and undoubtedly one of the area’s most difficult to get right and to properly audit. The problem with mileage is that it can very quickly become an expensive problem with payments to HMRC regularly topping more than £10,000 per driver. Also, incorrect treatment of workplaces (ie the Salesman who works from home but goes into the office each Monday) can turn previous business trips into private trips and increased yield for HMRC.
The Simple Advice
If you think you have a problem, you probably have. Get it checked out. Fleet Innovations regularly offer a free of charge audit service that will review your polices, forms and procedures to assess what potential issues may be hidden in the woodwork. The good news is that it’s not always difficult or expensive to fix. In fact a small change to the process or an additional field on the claim form could be all that it takes.
The clear message though is that you must get on top of it. If HMRC find issues within your mileage then you are opening up your business to further scrutiny. Ask yourself… Do you really want the hassle, time and disruption of opening up everything to HMRC or would it just be simpler to find out the problem and fix it? More often than not prevention is better than cure.
Mileage Claim Examples – The Good the Bad and the Ugly
In this section we will have a look at some examples of claims we have come across and consider if they are compliant or not. There is a small quiz involved and each month we will pull the quiz entrant from the draw to win a PEAK mileage capture GPS Dongle plus 12 months Access.
Not a lot, at least you can see who the driver is. The start and end odometer is also good.
Where do we start…
- The individual journeys are not clear, you can’t see start/end address date or distance
- The personal mileage in proportion to the business is very low. If private mileage is less than 20% of the business, then HMRC are likely to be suspicious. If the individual journeys are not itemised then it’s difficult to prove the mileage is legitimate.
- There is no itemisation to show the reasons for the trip.
HMRC can come at this from so many different angles. If this was my claim I would be pretty worried and would be looking to resolve this ASAP.
Compared to the last one there are at least some elements that are a bit better, for example each trip is set out on a different day. Unfortunately that’s about where it stops
Lets consider all the areas where there is a potential problem
- The individual journeys are not clear, you can’t see start/end address date or distance
- The fuel spends and mileage is showing an MPG of 22. This sounds low for a standard fleet car, would be worth checking against the actual MPG of the car.
- Zero private mileage, no one is going to believe this.
- If the driver is actually doing zero private miles and the car is not available for private use then is Benefit in kind taxation being paid, is it needed, is a pool car better?
- Farm trips, there are lots of them but which farms, where were they located, why were you there.
- Rounding of mileage – every journey ends with a zero which is possible but highly unlikely and feels like rounding to me.
- The claim Is on paper where is the trail, is it filed away, is there anything to back it up? what happens with the paper when approved.? Can it easily be found again?
- There is no itemisation to show the reasons for the trip apart from…farm trips.
What’s ugly? Again HMRC can come at this from so many different angles all of which have been explored above. Rather than dissecting each point just fix it!
Now this looks much better we have all the required fields in a simple and easy to read layout. Let’s go back to the check list and see what is and what is not included. This looks like it has been completed in a fairly comprehensive expenses system
|Date of travel||Yes|
|Journey start and Journey end||Yes|
|Place and/or company visited||Yes|
|Start and closing mileage||Odometer reading is included but difficult to see if both readings have been taken. Looks good though.|
|Total business miles||Yes|
|Checked for accuracy||Impossible to say|
On closer inspection some of the data does appear to offer cause for concern. The key areas have been highlighted in yellow
- The first trip is showing a mileage of 298 miles. Google maps show the trip as 180miles. There could be a very good reason for this but there are no supporting notes to say why
- Similarly the trip below is showing as 155 miles but google has it as 119
- The two trips below are showing as business but are late at night on a Saturday. It is worth checking this employee actually does work on a Saturday
- One last thing you may or may not have spotted is the mileage rate. It is showing as 15p but at the time of the claim the rate for that type of car was 14p per mile.
Nothing really it seems pretty comprehensive and is a useful enough claim however it is worth understanding why the mileage rate is not correct and also to understand if the overestimated mileage managed to sneak through an approval process.
If you have managed to get all the way down to here, then well done, this is quite a lengthy document for a complex subject that many people would consider should be quite simple.
If you have read through the text and thought that none of this applies to you then also well done. You are a rare breed and the fact you have compliant mileage is something to be celebrated, either that or you don’t submit a mileage claim and then I wonder why you have been reading this at all.
On the other hand if you have got this far and you have had a few nervous moments or a hot flush then this bit is important.
This document will not only to help you understand what you should and should not be doing but will also make you fully aware of what needs to be done. [highlight1]We can help![/highlight1]
The next step is easy…. Simply fill in the contact from below and we will be in touch to show you the simple and easy ways to fix your problem
Become compliant overnight by using PEAK Mileage Capture
If you want to solve your compliance issues immediately why not sign up to PEAK Miles our award winning, comprehensive and compliant mileage expenses system. www.peakmiles.com has been designed by a team of experts with backgrounds in fleet, finance and HMRC and will make the process of mileage compliance quick and simple.
The PEAK Mileage Capture System has a range of options that will work for any size of organisation with our smallest customers having just one car and our largest with more than 3000. The PEAK system also has a range of options starting at just £0.99 per month per user for our basic manual mileage system up to just £4.99 per month for our GPS system. The GPS system uses either an IPhone app or the GPS Trips stick which can be placed in your cigarette lighter socket and will trace all your mileage.
The PEAK system has been refined and proven to work over the last 3 years and now has a user base in excess of 36,000.
How it works
The PEAK Mileage Capture system is the ultimate solution when it comes to your mileage requirements. Offering 5 unique options aimed to cater for all types of users, mileage profiles and vehicle usage.
Our flagship product uses patent pending GPS technology and a Trip Stick® to capture and report mileage. The Trip Stick is easily installed by the driver into any car with a USB/12v supply and links to the powerful and intuitive online Mileage Expenses Portal.
When the mileage claim is due, the driver simply unplugs the Trip Stick from the car and inserts it into the USB port of a computer or laptop. Our built in desktop app will then upload the trips to our servers.
Drivers then use their unique log in, select the relevant mileage claim and consider each pre populated trip  and indicate whether the journey is business or private, the reason for the business trip and details. (Note once the trip is clicked private the itemisation of that trip is removed from the report, this removes any ‘Big Brother’ issues).
When a driver is satisfied with their mileage claim/report, they simply submit the report to their manager for approval and print off/download a copy for their own records. Reports can be downloaded directly to excel.
The whole process can take a matter of minutes (possibly up to 5 minutes) for an entire months’ worth of mileage claims and has features such as mapping and report download functionality.
[highlight1]Flexible pricing[/highlight1]Pay monthly or up front for the system that is right for you. High mileage drivers should use the GPS while low mileage drivers will use the basic or enhanced system
[highlight1]Stop Over and Under Estimation[/highlight1] The PEAK GPS system is simple and fair meaning you record every mile you travel and not one more or less. This prevents less scrupulous employees from overestimating mileage and means that you always remember those forgotten trips.
[highlight1]Save Time[/highlight1] The PEAK GPS system is quick and once you are used to the process should take just 5 – 10 minutes per month