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BUSINESS TAXATION: ALLOWANCES FOR EQUIPMENT PURCHASES AND RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENTS

The expenditure which any business incurs on buying new capital equipment, plant or machinery cannot normally be deducted from profits as a business expense in the same way that, for example, staff salaries or travel costs are deducted.

Instead, expenditure on equipment and the like which is expected to have lasting use in the business qualifies for special allowances known as ‘capital allowances’. The amount of these allowances is deducted as a separate item in the tax computation for the business after the net profits for the year have been arrived at.

As with nearly all tax rules, there are many complex areas of detail, and what follows is a summary as a general guide. You will need to refer to us for detailed advice on any aspect before proceeding in any expectation of receiving a particular tax allowance.

Items which qualify

Capital allowances for machinery and plant are only given to those carrying on a trade or business, which for this purpose includes a furnished holiday lettings business; separate rules apply to other types of property lettings. The allowances are available for most types of equipment and machinery used for the purposes of the business including cars, office machinery, office furniture as well as certain systems which are built into the business premises itself, such as electrical systems, internal water systems, lifts and heating arrangements. Perhaps the type of ‘plant’ of greatest antiquity which still qualifies for allowances are horses used in a farm business.

There is however a list of ‘structures’ which might be thought to qualify as plant but are excluded from relief by statute. This list includes mains electrical systems not serving particular items of equipment, mains water systems, car parks, doors, gates and shutters, including roller doors.

Examples of more unusual types of ‘plant’ which can qualify for allowances are towers for floodlighting, advertising hoardings, removable partition walls and fire alarm and sprinkler systems.

Rates of allowances

Any expenditure which does qualify for capital allowances as machinery or plant must then be within one of the following categories:

  1. Long life assets: these are items which can be expected to have a useful economic life of at least 25 years. Given the rate of obsolescence in modern equipment, it may perhaps be unusual for an item to fall within this category, but if it does, the annual allowance available for the expenditure is currently 10 per cent of the reducing balance.
  2. Integral features in buildings and structures: it is commonly overlooked when business premises are purchased that the structure itself will contain ‘plant’ qualifying for capital allowances, as mentioned above. Identifying the amount of expenditure in any purchase which can be allocated to the equipment requires specialist expertise, but once it has been identified, the rate of allowance is 10 per cent per annum.
  3. Cars with a higher level of emissions: business cars with CO2 emissions of 160g/km or more receive allowances at 10 per cent per annum. Note that prior to 6 April 2009 there was an upper limit of £3,000 per annum for the annual allowance on each expensive business car but this rule no longer applies. Accordingly, a car used wholly for business and which costs £60,000 will now benefit from 10 per cent writing down allowances without the upper limit applying.
  4. New environmentally beneficial plant or machinery: there is an approved product list for this category. It includes items such as energy efficient toilets, energy efficient washing machines and water efficient industrial cleaning equipment. Items on the list benefit from 100 per cent allowances in the year of purchase.
  5. Cars purchased new which have low CO2 emissions: this includes electrically propelled cars, but also other cars which have emissions under 110g/km. This includes some hybrid cars, such as for example the new small Lexus hybrid. The rate of allowances for this category is 100 per cent in the year of purchase.
  6. Other general equipment not in the foregoing categories: a general pooling of equipment applies to other items eligible for allowances.

There are other areas of detail not covered in this memorandum, for example relating to leased assets and equipment purchases covered by certain anti-avoidance rules.

Pooling

The main system of capital allowances for plant and machinery operates by putting all acquisitions into a pool of expenditure and giving an allowance of 20 per cent per annum for the balance of expenditure in the general pool of assets. This rate is however set to reduce to 18 per cent per annum from 6 April 2012. The 10% rates mentioned above will at the same time be reduced to 8%.

The way pooling works is for the cost of new items purchased to be added to the existing balance brought forward to the year, and the proceeds of any sale of items included in the pool from the past year are deducted from the balance. The net result receives the 20 per cent allowance.

This general pool will not include the items listed above which qualify for either 10 per cent or 100 per cent allowances. It will be seen that cars used wholly for business which have CO2 emissions of more than 110g/km but not exceeding 160g/km go into this pool; this will include many smaller petrol engined business cars, for example some varieties of the basic Ford Focus 1.6.

The system of pooling has the effect that annual allowances are often claimed for some of the expenditure on equipment which has been sold in the past tax year. For example, if the pool contains equipment which originally cost £50,000 and in the current year that equipment is sold for £1,000, only the sale proceeds are deducted from the balance in the pool and the remaining £49,000 continues to receive allowances as part of that pool over succeeding years.

This principle applies equally to expensive business cars used for the business. If a car is purchased costing £90,000, that expenditure will qualify for 10 per cent annual writing down allowances (assuming that the car has high CO2 emissions). If in a later year the car is sold for £30,000 only those sale proceeds are deducted from the pool figure and the balance continues to receive writing down allowances at 10 per cent per annum, even though the car has been sold.

Items with some private use

If an item is used partly for business and partly for private purposes, a common example being a car, it does not go into the general pool but is kept separate and calculations for that asset are made on an individual basis. They must be reduced to reflect the extent of private use. The advantage with these ‘single asset pools’ is that, on disposal of the item concerned for less than the pool value brought forward, an immediate allowance based on the remaining pool value after deduction of the sale proceeds can be claimed for tax purposes. The pool value must be reduced in accordance with the overall proportion of business use to find the final tax allowance.

Thus, if the expensive car referred to above had some private use, a final balancing allowance would be available on disposal, instead of the continuing allowances over subsequent years which apply where the asset is used wholly for business.

Annual investment allowance

Most general plant and machinery can qualify for a 100 per cent allowance in the year of purchase up to an upper limit. For 2010/11 and 2011/12 the upper limit is £100,000. However no business cars qualify for this allowance, and there are some other exclusions. But most ordinary equipment such as computers, copying machines, vans and goods vehicles does qualify and this allowance therefore effectively enables the cost (up to the applicable upper limit) to be fully written off in the year of purchase.

Note however that the allowance is set to be reduced from 6 April 2012 to £25,000 per annum and so businesses with plans for high capital investment in the near future should note the 6 April 2012 cut-off date for the current higher allowance.

Research and development expenditure

The allowances for plant and machinery are available generally to all types of businesses, but an entirely different category of expenditure is available only to companies: this category is for research and development expenditure. It can however be an important topic for companies to consider, because the relief is quite generous, and has in fact been substantially increased with effect from 1 April 2011.

Expenditure can qualify for research and development relief if it relates to a project which seeks to achieve an advance in overall knowledge or capability in a field of science or technology. HMRC will look for some aspect of the project which resolves a particular scientific or technological problem, and not simply advances existing knowledge or capability. HMRC say: ‘It is not enough that a product is commercially innovative. You cannot claim in respect of projects to develop innovative business products or services that do not incorporate any advance in science or technology’.

Accordingly, it will be appreciated that if expenditure is to qualify for the relief, it must satisfy a high standard for innovation. Once this test is satisfied however, the relief can be claimed on all expenditure which relates to the particular project, including staffing costs, certain expenditure on subcontractors, expenditure on computer software and consumable items as well as payments in respect of clinical trials.

For small and medium-sized companies, the new level of relief proposed from 1 April 2011 is a deduction in the tax computation for 200 per cent of the qualifying expenditure. Accordingly if a company has spent £25,000 on a project which qualifies, it can claim a deduction in its tax computation for £50,000. This is particularly generous because normally expenditure would not qualify for any deduction since it is of a capital nature.

The government has also proposed that with effect from 1 April 2012, the total deduction will be 225 per cent of the relevant expenditure.

Certain other rules relating to the research and development relief are set to be abolished from 1 April 2012. For example the amount of relief is currently geared partly to the level of PAYE and National Insurance contributions liabilities of the business and there is also a £10,000 minimum expenditure condition. Both of these rules are set to be abolished for expenditure incurred on or after 1 April 2012.

Accordingly it can be well worth investigating whether expenditure on the design and development of new products might qualify for research and development relief. Whilst the tests for the relief set a very high standard, where they are satisfied the tax relief available is very generous.

 

FOR GENERAL INFORMATION ONLY

Please note that this Memorandum is not intended to give specific technical advice and it should not be construed as doing so.  It is designed to alert clients to some of the issues.  It is not intended to give exhaustive coverage of the topic.

Professional advice should always be sought before action is either taken or refrained from as a result of information contained herein.

 

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