In an earlier article MSA looked at the tax implications of earning additional income from your side-business. While much of that still holds true, recent changes to the tax system have improved the situation for many.

Millions of Britons use online platforms such as Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and Airbnb to supplement their income, but few are aware of the tax liabilities for doing so.

In his Spring statement earlier this year, Chancellor Philip Hammond called for evidence on how these type of companies should help users pay the correct amount of tax. He then went one step further by introducing a new trading allowance.

The allowance is retrospective so applies from 6th April 2017 onwards. In the past HMRC should have to have been notified of every £1 of income you received. Whether that was from employment (usually sorted by your employer) or from other activities like like selling on Esty or renting out a room on AirBnB. As a result, most people earning small amounts just didn’t bother filling in a tax return, and HMRC did chase them. As always though, there were those abusing system, and this new regulation could be seen as the first step in cracking down on digital tax evaders.

What is the trading allowance and how much can I earn?

The new rules are part of efforts to support the digital and sharing economy, under which income generated from trading activities below £1,000 is tax free and does not need to be declared. The earnings don't necessarily have to be from digital sources, but that is the particular mischief the allowance is trying to fix.

What if I earn more than £1,000?

If earning more than £1,000 HMRC will need to be notified by filing an annul tax return, but be careful as it could end up costing more than you bargained.

Earn just £1 over and above allowance and you could be liable for up to £200.20 of tax (at the basic rate). That’s because in order to claim the allowance you have tell HRMC in a process known as “making an election.” This doesn’t matter for earnings below £1,000 since HRMC aren’t going to notified anyway, but when earning over £1,000 it is important.

The trading allowance in action

Let’s say you have a £1,000 turnover from selling handmade goods on Etsy, and the cost to make those goods is £100. You enjoy a profit of £900, and because the total income is not more than £1,000 you don't need to inform HMRC.

Now, if your turnover was £1,001, you would have to declare it to HMRC via a tax return. The default position of the tax office is to deduct expenses (which you’d list on your return too), and charge tax on any profit. In this example, that means you’d now be liable for tax on the whole £901 profit rather than just the £1 you earned over and above the allowance.

At the basic-rate of 20pc, the extra £1 you earned would create a tax liability of £180.20, compared to zero if you didn’t earn that extra pound, or just £0.20 if you’d ‘elected’ to use the trading allowance.

What should I watch out for?

There are a couple of things to watch out for. As shown above in the process of “making an election”, but there are others, particularly if you exceed the tax-free threshold.

  • It’s income that counts, not profits to keep an eye on how much your earning
  • You can either deduct the £1,000 trading allowance or your costs but not both
  • You don’t set a precedent i.e. if you decided to deduct the allowance this year – the next year you can choose to deduct your actual costs instead
  • The allowance is not available for partnerships so avoid involving others in your hobby if you wish to claim it
  • The £1,000 limit applies to all self employed trades and is not on a per business basis
  • There is a separate £1,000 property allowance, that can be claimed by individuals earning an income from their property, both this and the trading allowance can be claimed at the same time
  • The property allowance can only be claimed where “rent a room” relif (up to £7,500) has not been claimed.

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