A joint case brought by three appellants on this issue was heard by the First Tier Tribunal in 2008 and, on this occasion, the tribunal judges upheld HMRC's decision that their claim should be not permitted. You can read the judgement in full by clicking here.

Background to the case

The case was brought by two employees who worked in the sewerage industry and another employee who was an outdoor maintenance environmental worker.

The sewerage workers claimed that, because they were required to enter the sewerage system up to 13 times a day, daily washing of their work clothes and non-work clothes was imperative. The other employee claimed that his work put him at risk because he was exposed daily to rodents, needles, and animal faeces.

Each of the three workers (all working for different companies) had claimed tax relief over one or more tax years for £2,200 per annum.

The Tribunal was asked to provide a verdict on whether the employees' claims were allowable – the claims covered not only the washing of their protective clothing and their normal work clothing but also their personal hygiene.

What did the appellants have to convince the Tribunal of?

In cases like these, employees should demonstrate that the amount of money spent on washing their protective clothing, on washing their normal work clothing, and on their personal hygiene expenditure was paid by them by themselves as employees.

They also would have to prove that their employers “required” them to wash their clothes and that all the expenses the employees occurred were “wholly and exclusively” for the purposes of their employment.

How did the Tribunal decide?

For their ordinary clothing, no relief was available because, in addition to wearing the clothes for work, they also wore them outside of work. This meant that the costs of cleaning their ordinary clothing could not be demonstrated as “wholly and exclusively” for the purposes of their employment. This part of their claim was disallowed.

For their protective clothing, the Tribunal did agree that their cleaning did pass the “wholly and exclusively” tests. However, because they could not provide evidence of their expenditure and that the figure of £2,200 was an estimate, the claim was not admissible however they would all qualify for the fixed sum allowance of £60 per annum for the cleaning of protective clothing.

Had the appellants provided evidence, both the Tribunal and HMRC stated that this would have made their case much stronger. However, HMRC would still have appealed against the allowance of all costs by arguing that the washing powder used in cleaning their clothing was also used for general clothes washing within their households.

Where does this leave people in similar circumstances?

Not in a great place. By following HMRC's arguments to the letter, the only real way to prove employment-related business expenses would be to:

  • install a separate washing machine for clothes,
  • measure the amount of electricity used,
  • keep receipts for all cleaning products, and
  • provide some form of documentary evidence that these cleaning products were only ever used in the work-related washing machine on work-related clothes.

In addition, their employment contract would have to stipulate that they must wash their work clothes at pre-defined intervals and that employees must provide their employers with some form of evidence that the rule was being adhered to.

In most cases, employees will be entitled to the £60 annual allowance and no more – unless they can make a good case direct to HMRC by providing evidence that they found acceptable.

Get help from Sunny Accountants with your expenses claims

To get help from the team at Sunny Accountants on all aspects of work-related expenses for employees, please call us on 01623 559 362 or email [email protected].

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