Capital Allowances: The Basics

What are capital allowances?
Capital allowances are how businesses claim tax relief on capital expenditure. This raises another question: what is capital expenditure?

Business expenditure can be split into two categories: revenue expenditure and capital expenditure. Revenue expenses refer to the day-to-day running costs of a business, whereas capital expenses relate to assets that will be used by the business in its trade. This is a broad description as no legal definition exists of the two terms. For those in the building trade, the purchase of vans and expensive tools are frequent examples of capital expenditure. (Cheap tools like saws, spanners and replacement parts like blades are a category of revenue expenditure known as “repairs and renewals”)

Capital allowances are calculated using various methods, depending on the asset purchased and the amount of expenditure. The following is a general guide to typical purchases of assets – there are of course always exceptions.

Annual Investment Allowance (“AIA”)
The Annual Investment Allowance allows you to claim the whole cost of up to £500,000 spent on assets classified as “plant and machinery” each year. (The AIA limit is set to decrease to £25,000 from 1 January 2016) “Plant and machinery” in this context covers a wide range of expenses which for the typical sub-contractor would include tools and equipment, vans (but not cars) and computers.

When you sell an asset for which AIA has been claimed, let your accountant know as this will need to be shown on your tax return.

Writing Down Allowances
If you spend more than the AIA limit, you can normally claim writing down allowances which is 18% on a “reducing basis”. This means you claim 18% of the cost in the first year, 18% on the remaining cost in the following year, then 18% on the remaining cost in the year after that and so on. Here is an example:

Cost of assets not qualifying for AIA: £50,000
18% capital allowances (“CAs”) claimed in 2013/14 £9,000
Remaining cost (known as Tax Written Down Value or “TWDV”) £41,000
18% CAs claimed in 2014/15 (£41,000 x 18%) £7,380
Tax written down value £33,620
18% CAs claimed in 2015/16 (£33,620 x 18%) £6,052
Tax written down value £27,568

If you buy further assets that are above the limit for annual investment allowances, you add them to the Tax Written Down Value and calculate capital allowances on the combined new total.

When you sell assets, the proceeds are deducted from the Tax Written Down Value and you calculate capital allowances as per normal on the new total.

In a subsequent blog post, we will look at capital allowances on cars and how you calculate capital allowances on assets used partly for private use.

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