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Deciphering the concept of duality for tax purposes

My son Matthew graduated from University this year and has spent the summer working in the Lake District. Last week, I was visiting clients in the north-west, and so took the opportunity of meeting up with Matthew and spending a day hiking.

Just to be reassuringly consistent, the Lakes kept up their 100% record of giving us foul weather to contend with. So awful, my waterproof clothes surrendered to the might of heavy showers and gales force winds.

On the M6 heading north approaching Birmingham, two thoughts crossed my mind: firstly should I use the blissful M6 Toll road and pay the £5.30? And more interestingly, if I did so, would HMRC regard the payment as having a dual purpose, and under the concept of duality disallow the payment?

Duality is one of those peculiar tax concepts. If you incur an expense that gives you both a business benefit and a personal benefit at the same time, none of the expense is allowed.

You can't even split the expense on a percentage basis. That’s not the same as using a car for business use, where a journey to a patient is 100% business and then the journey to Sainsbury's is 100% personal.

By way of an example, a client came to see me recently and explained that she went on an overseas conference and added on a week's holiday. The client wanted to claim 50% of the flight, half business and half holiday.

'What about duality?', I replied. 'The flight gave you a business journey and a personal journey at the same time, and so none of it is allowable.'

'That’s not fair!', the client retorted.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking taxes have anything to do with fairness. They don't.

So, as I could not resist the pull of the M6 Toll road, I accepted that the payment gave me the use of the road for both a business and a personal benefit, and I won’t be claiming the toll charge as a business expense. I do hope my tax inspector reads this.

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