Getting a return from the rail strike: Sue Fieldman sees the human face of the taxman and DSS and finds it just the ticket

Click to follow
IF YOU battled through the train strike, make sure you do not suffer even more by paying tax on the extra cost of getting to work.

There are special tax concessions for travel and subsistence when public transport is disrupted.

But the majority of employers and employees know nothing about them. They are buried in the depths of tax and national insurance booklets.

Travelling to and from work is not normally an allowable expense for income tax purposes. If your employer pays expenses for you, you are taxed on this sum less anything you contribute towards the cost.

However, when the going gets tough the tough weaken. The Revenue provides an extra statutory concession, which applies specifically when public transport is disrupted because of industrial action.

In simple terms the concession says that if employees have to occupy hotel or other overnight accommodation at or near the place of work, or incur extra costs travelling to and from work, reasonable amounts paid by their employer towards the additional expenses are not counted for tax.

Similarly, where the employer meets the expenses directly, such as block booking a hotel, providing a company bus or hired cars, individual employees will be not assessed where the expenditure is reasonable.

David Trill, a chartered accountant from Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, says: 'Make sure that your employer is aware of the concession. You should both ensure that these payments are not included on the Form P11D, otherwise the Revenue could try to tax you'.

If you earn more than pounds 8,500 a year, including benefits, your employer has to tell the Revenue at the end of the tax year about all benefits and expenses paid to you. The employer sends all the information on a Form P11D. You have to enter all these expenses on your tax return and pay tax on any that are not allowable.

When it comes to National Insurance, the Department of Social Security is also uncharacteristically benevolent. It usually insists that any payment an employer makes towards the cost of an employee travelling between home and place of employment - for example, fares or mileage allowance - must be included in gross pay.

However, employees strike it lucky if transport is disrupted. Mr Trill says: 'If the employer makes travel and subsistence payments to compensate for any extra expenditure incurred by the employee, the employer does not need to include such payments in gross pay. They are not subject to National Insurance contributions.'

Meanwhile, with the prospect of more rail strikes looming, remember that British Rail does offer some form of recompense.

A BR spokesman says: 'If you have a season ticket, when you come to renew it you can get an extension by the number of days lost because of strikes.

'This applies equally if you have a monthly or weekly ticket. You can also get a cash equivalent in the event of you not renewing.'

It is not only strikes that bring out the human face of the Inland Revenue and the DSS. Both departments also provide concessions to workers who have to travel home late at night.

You will not pay income tax on the cost of a taxi, or hired car, which the employer provides solely to take you home after work.

However, late night working in the eyes of the taxman must be after 9 o'clock. Public transport must have ceased or it would be unreasonable for an employee to use it.

The occasional sortie into the night is acceptable for tax purposes. But frequent late night sessions - more than 60 times a year - or regular ones - a taxi home every Friday night - will catch the attention of the taxman.

The DSS operates a parallel arrangement. An employer does not have to include in gross pay any payments or reimbursements for taxis for the occasional late night in the office.

(Photograph omitted)

Looking for credit card or current account deals? Search here