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Understanding VAT on Entertainment Expenses

Value Added Tax (VAT) is a fundamental aspect of financial management for any business. When it comes to entertainment expenses, understanding VAT regulations is crucial to ensure compliance and proper financial planning. In this blog post, we will delve into the complexities of VAT on entertainment in UK businesses, exploring what constitutes entertainment, applicable VAT rates, and essential considerations for businesses.

Defining Entertainment Expenses:

Entertainment expenses encompass a wide range of activities, including client dinners, events, hospitality, and corporate outings. While these activities are essential for building relationships and fostering business connections, they are subject to specific VAT rules.

VAT Rates for Entertainment Expenses:

  1. Standard Rate: In most cases, entertainment expenses are subject to the standard VAT rate, which is currently 20% in the UK. This rate is applied to the total cost of the entertainment event.
  2. Exceptions: Some entertainment events may qualify for reduced or zero-rated VAT, such as certain cultural events or activities involving children. It’s crucial to consult HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) guidelines or seek professional advice to determine the applicable rate for specific events.

Input VAT Reclaim:

Businesses can usually reclaim the input VAT on entertainment expenses if they are incurred for business purposes and the business is VAT-registered. However, there are conditions and restrictions, especially when it comes to employee entertainment. VAT incurred on employee entertainment is not always recoverable, so it’s essential to keep detailed records and understand the rules to avoid complications during VAT reclaim.

Employee Entertainment:

Entertainment provided to employees, such as staff parties or social events, is subject to specific VAT rules. If the total cost per person exceeds a certain threshold set by HMRC, the full amount, including VAT, is subject to VAT. However, input VAT may be recoverable if the event qualifies as staff welfare.

Example 1: Sponsoring an Event

Let’s say your business decides to sponsor a local charity event. In this case, you can generally reclaim the VAT on the expenses incurred for the sponsorship. However, it’s essential to ensure that the sponsorship is for a valid business purpose and is directly related to the promotion of your products or services.

Example 2: Entertaining Clients

Suppose you host a dinner for your clients to discuss ongoing or potential business projects. The cost of the dinner, including food, drinks, and venue hire, is subject to standard VAT. However, you can reclaim the input VAT on these expenses since they are incurred for business purposes. It’s crucial to note that the VAT reclaim applies to entertaining clients and not their partners or family members who attend the event.

Example 3: Employee Entertainment

When it comes to staff parties or social events in the UK, the VAT treatment depends on the total cost per person. HMRC has set a threshold of £150 per attendee, including VAT, for events that qualify as staff welfare. If the total cost per person for such events exceeds this threshold, the entire amount, including VAT, is subject to VAT, and input VAT can typically not be reclaimed. However, if the cost per person is £150 or less, the event is considered staff welfare, and input VAT can be reclaimed, provided it meets the necessary criteria.

Example 4: Entertaining Overseas Clients

Suppose your business is entertaining clients from overseas. If the clients are non-UK residents and the entertainment is provided to them outside the UK, it is generally outside the scope of UK VAT. Therefore, you don’t need to charge VAT on these expenses, but you also can’t reclaim any input VAT associated with them.

Example 5: Entertainment of Non-Business Guests

If your company hosts an event where both business and non-business guests are present, you must carefully allocate the expenses related to business entertainment. Only the costs directly attributable to entertaining business guests (excluding their partners or family members) are eligible for VAT reclaims.

Example 6: Trade Shows and Exhibitions

Your business participates in a trade show to showcase your products to potential clients. The expenses incurred for booth rental, promotional materials, and entertaining clients at the event are considered business-related. Therefore, you can reclaim the input VAT on these expenses. However, any entertainment expenses incurred for non-business guests at the trade show are not eligible for VAT reclaims.

Example 7: Corporate Hospitality Events

Your company organises a corporate hospitality event, inviting key clients to a sporting event or a cultural performance. The cost of the event, including tickets, food, and drinks, is subject to standard VAT. You can reclaim the input VAT on these expenses, but only for the portion directly related to entertaining business clients. If non-business guests attend, you cannot reclaim VAT on their share of the costs.

Example 8: Training Events for Clients

Your business hosts a training workshop for clients to educate them about your products or services. The costs associated with organising the training event, including venue hire, materials, and catering, are considered business-related. As a result, you can reclaim the input VAT on these expenses, provided the training event is directly related to your business activities.

Example 9: Business Trips and Meals

Your employees travel for business purposes and incur expenses for meals and entertainment while meeting with clients or attending conferences. The VAT on these expenses is generally recoverable if they are directly related to business activities. However, it’s essential to keep detailed records, such as receipts and meeting agendas, to support VAT reclaims during audits.

Example 10: Client Gifts and Promotional Items

Your business gives promotional items and gifts to clients as part of a marketing campaign. These items, such as branded merchandise, are subject to VAT. While you cannot reclaim input VAT on gifts, you can usually recover VAT on promotional items that cost less than a certain threshold per item (£50 per item (including VAT) Ensure that these items are clearly promotional and not gifts to maintain VAT eligibility.

Important Considerations:

  1. Record-Keeping: Accurate record-keeping is vital to substantiate VAT reclaims and comply with HMRC regulations. Maintain detailed records of entertainment expenses, including receipts, invoices, and the purpose of the event.
  2. Seek Professional Advice: VAT regulations can be intricate, especially concerning entertainment expenses. Consulting a VAT expert or accountant can help businesses navigate the complexities and ensure compliance with HMRC guidelines.
  3. Stay Updated: VAT regulations are subject to change. Businesses must stay informed about any updates or amendments to VAT rules related to entertainment expenses to avoid potential issues.


Navigating VAT on entertainment expenses in UK businesses requires careful attention to detail and a thorough understanding of HMRC regulations. By adhering to the guidelines, maintaining accurate records, and seeking professional advice when needed, businesses can manage their entertainment expenses efficiently, ensuring compliance and maximising VAT reclaims where applicable. Stay informed, keep meticulous records, and consult experts when in doubt to navigate the intricate world of VAT on entertainment expenses successfully.

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