Employee Travel Expenses: What UK Employers Need to Know

By Ashley FerroJanuary 24, 2023

Navigating employee travel expenses can be tricky, but it's essential for keeping your business on track and compliant 

Employee travel expenses are what your employees rack up while travelling for work, such as airfares, hotel stays, and transportation costs.

Usually, employers cover these costs, but it's important to know which expenses qualify for reimbursement and how they align with tax rules. 

Let’s dive in and simplify the way you handle travel expenses! 

What are Employee Travel Expenses? 

Employee travel expenses are costs incurred by employees when travelling for work-related purposes. These expenses are typically covered by the employer and can be claimed back if they are strictly for business needs.  

What Can Employees Claim as Travel Expenses? 

What Can Employees Claim as Travel ExpensesCommon business travel expenses can include: 

  1. Airfares and baggage costs for domestic or overseas travel. 

  2. Accommodation (i.e. hotels, motels, etc.) 

  3. Transport fees (i.e. train, bus, taxi, or ride-sharing). 

  4. Car hire costs and associated fees (i.e. tolls, fuel, parking). 

  5. Food and beverages when staying overnight. 

Let’s dive into each of these employee travel expenses for a better understanding: 

1. Airfares 

Air travel is a common expense for employees who need to attend meetings, conferences, or work across different locations.

Reimbursable air travel expenses include: 

  • Economy class tickets for domestic and international flights. 

  • Baggage fees for checked luggage necessary for the trip’s duration. 

  • Change fees if a business appointment shifts and requires adjusting flight plans. 

Employers usually require that air travel bookings adhere to company policy, which often favours cost-effective options and advance bookings. 

2. Accommodation 

Staying overnight for business? Accommodation costs are claimable when employees must travel away from their home city for work.

These include: 

  • Hotel or motel stays where the cost is reasonable and aligns with company budget allowances. 

  • Extended stays in serviced apartments for longer projects, often more economical for trips exceeding a week. 

Employees are encouraged to use preferred providers or booking systems where possible to take advantage of corporate rates and discounts. 

3. Transportation 

Getting from point A to B while on business can encompass various modes of transportation.

Reimbursable transportation expenses cover: 

  • Car rentals, including the daily rental fee and any insurance required by the rental agency. 

  • Public transport, including bus, train, subway, and tram fares necessary to navigate between business-related locations. 

  • Taxis and rideshares, especially when other forms of transport are unavailable or impractical. 

For employees using their own vehicles, mileage rate reimbursement is often provided at a rate approved by the employer, covering fuel and wear-and-tear costs. 

Who is Eligible to Claim Employee Travel Expenses? 

Employees who incur costs while travelling for business-related activities are typically eligible to claim travel expenses 

The eligibility to claim these expenses varies depending on the employee's role and the nature of their work. 

Who is Eligible to Claim Employee Travel Expenses

  • Office-based employees: Office-based employees can claim travel expenses when they are required to travel outside their usual workplace for business purposes such as attending meetings, conferences, or training sessions. 

  • Remote workers: Remote workers are eligible to claim travel expenses for trips to the company's main office or other business locations when such travel is necessary for their work duties. This does not include daily commuting between their home and a designated work site. 

  • Field personnel: Field personnel, such as sales representatives or service technicians, who travel to multiple locations as part of their regular job duties can claim expenses for travelling to various non-fixed work locations. 

Can Remote Employees Claim Travel Expenses?  

Yes, under certain conditions: 

  • Travel expenses are reimbursable when home-based employees need to travel for specific business purposes that are not part of their regular home-office duties. 

  • Similar to other employees, these travels must be documented and pre-approved. 

Specific Conditions for Claiming Employee Travel Expenses 

  1. Pre-approval: Employees must often obtain pre-approval for their travel to ensure that the expenses are recognised and authorised by the employer. 

  2. Business necessity: Travel expenses must be directly related to business activities and not for personal reasons. 

  3. Reasonableness: The costs incurred must be reasonable, not exceeding standard rates for transportation, meals, lodging, etc. 

  4. Documentation: Adequate documentation such as receipts, mileage logs, and detailed reports must be provided to support the expense claims. 

How to Reimburse Employee Travel Expenses 

How to Reimburse Employee Travel Expenses

1. Establish a Clear Travel Expense Policy 

A well-defined travel expense policy is the foundation of efficient expense management. This policy should clearly outline: 

  • Allowable expenses: Specify which types of expenses employees can claim, such as airfare, hotels, mileage, meals, and other travel-related costs. 

  • Spending limits: Set clear spending limits for various categories of expenses to help employees make cost-effective decisions. 

  • Required documentation: Define the types of documentation required to support each expense claim, such as receipts, invoices, or mileage logs. 

Creating a detailed policy helps prevent misunderstandings and ensures that both management and staff are on the same page. 

2. Implement a Streamlined Submission Process 

To reduce delays and increase efficiency in expense management, utilise online expense management systems that simplify the submission of expense reports.  

ExpenseIn, for example, offers an intuitive platform where receipts can be scanned in real time, and expense claims can be submitted on the go via a mobile app.

This technology not only speeds up the process but also helps in keeping digital records that are easy to track and manage. 

3. Ensure Timely Processing 

Prompt processing of travel expense claims is key to keeping employees satisfied and financially secure. Establish standard time frames within which all expenses must be reviewed and reimbursed.  

For instance, you might decide that all claims should be processed within two weeks of submission. ExpenseIn can help in this by setting automated reminders to ensure no claim is overlooked and by streamlining the approval workflow. 

4. Conduct Regular Audits 

Regular audits are essential to ensure adherence to your travel expense policy and to detect any discrepancies or fraud. These audits help in maintaining the integrity of your expense management process and provide insights into spending patterns.  

With ExpenseIn, you can easily conduct these audits as all data is centrally stored and accessible, making it simple to review and compare expenses over time. 

Do Employers Have to Pay for Travel Expenses? 

Legally, employers are not obligated to reimburse travel expenses for their employees, although it is common practice for many to do so, especially when the travel qualifies as 'allowable' under company policies.  

Ultimately, whether or not travel expenses are reimbursed depends on the agreements outlined in the employment contract or other agreements made between the employer and the employee. 

HMRC Tax Rules for Employee Travel Expenses 

Navigating the tax rules regarding employee travel expenses can be difficult, but understanding these regulations is crucial for ensuring compliance and making the most of available tax reliefs.  

Taxable vs Non-taxable Travel Expenses 

Taxable vs Non-taxable Travel Expenses

What are Non-taxable Travel Expenses? 

Expenses incurred while performing job duties or travelling to temporary workplaces are generally not taxable.

These expenses can include: 

  • Transportation: Costs involved in travelling to and from business meetings, conferences, or temporary work locations. 

  • Accommodation: Hotel or lodging expenses when overnight stays are required for business purposes. 

  • Meals: Food and drink purchased during business travel. 

Example: An employee travels from London to Manchester for a two-day business seminar. The costs for train tickets, hotel stay, and meals during this period are considered directly related to the job and are therefore non-taxable. 

What are Taxable Travel Expenses? 

Expenses that do not meet the criteria of being solely for business purposes are typically considered taxable.

These include: 

  • Commuting costs: Travel between home and a regular workplace is not eligible for tax relief as it is considered personal commuting. 

  • Personal travel: Any travel expenses related to non-work activities during a business trip are taxable. 

Example: During a business trip, an employee decides to stay an extra weekend at the destination for sightseeing. Expenses incurred during these additional days are personal and thus taxable. 

Key HMRC Guidelines on Employee Travel Expenses 

1. Temporary Workplace Rule 

According to HMRC, travel expenses to a temporary workplace (a location where an employee works for less than 24 months) are typically non-taxable. This is because the expenses are seen as essential for carrying out job responsibilities. 

2. Regular Commuting 

Costs incurred while travelling from home to a regular workplace are not reimbursable and are considered personal expenses, hence they are not tax-deductible. 

3. Dual-Purpose Travel 

If a trip has both business and personal elements, only the portion of the expense specifically related to business can be claimed as non-taxable.  

Employees may need to provide a detailed breakdown to claim these expenses correctly. 

4. Record Keeping for Tax Purposes 

Both employers and employees are required to keep detailed records of travel expenses.  

Employers must report expenses that qualify as taxable income, and employees must maintain receipts and logs to support their claims for non-taxable expenses. 

Additional HMRC Considerations for Finance & HR Teams 

  • Per Diem Rates: HMRC offers predetermined rates for business travel expenses, simplifying the claims process as receipts are not always needed. 

  • Salary Sacrifice Arrangements: Specific conditions apply for travel expenses under salary sacrifice arrangements, affecting how they are reported and taxed. 

  • Exemptions: Certain travel expenses, like those from a works bus service or during industrial action, may be exempt from reporting. 

Note: Tax rules and guidelines, including those related to employee travel expenses, are subject to change. It is important to stay updated with the latest information from HMRC to ensure compliance and make the most of available tax reliefs. Regularly checking the HMRC website or consulting with a tax professional can help you keep ahead of any changes that may affect your travel expense claims. 

Benefits of a Travel Expense Policy for Employers & Employees 

The benefits of a robust travel expense policy go beyond just managing costs. They play a vital role in every aspect of employee expense management.  

Benefits For Employers 

1. Cost Control 

Having a clear travel expense policy helps keep costs under control by setting limits and defining what expenses are acceptable.  

This prevents overspending and ensures all employee spending aligns with your organisation’s financial plans, contributing to better financial stability. 

2. Increased Compliance 

With straightforward guidelines, it's easier for everyone to follow the rules. This reduces the risk of fraudulent claims and ensures spending stays in line with company goals.  

A clear policy also provides a solid basis for any audits, enhancing transparency and accountability. 

3. Efficient Processes 

Standardising how expenses are reported and reimbursed simplifies the financial management process.  

This reduces the workload on your finance team and leads to quicker, more accurate financial handling, making everything run smoother. 

Benefits For Employees 

1. Clear Expectations 

A travel expense policy gives employees clear guidelines about what expenses can be reimbursed and how to submit them.  

This clarity removes uncertainty and confusion, helping employees know exactly what to expect when it comes to reimbursements. 

2. Quicker Reimbursement 

When everyone follows clear, well-defined procedures, reimbursements can be processed faster.  

This not only boosts employee satisfaction but also helps maintain good morale and trust in the company’s management practices. 

3. Fair & Equal Treatment 

A uniform policy ensures that all employees are treated the same way, regardless of their role or department.  

This fairness means everyone understands they are being held to the same standards, promoting equality and fairness across the company. 

How to Implement a Business Travel Expense Policy 

Creating and implementing a business travel expense policy is a critical step for any organisation to effectively manage and streamline employee travel expenses.  

Here’s a straightforward guide on how to develop a policy that is clear, fair, and compliant, answering the common question: What should a travel expense policy include? 

Step 1: Define What Counts as Reimbursable Expenses 

Clearly outline the types of expenses that the company will reimburse. As mentioned previously, typical reimbursable expenses include: 

  • Airfare, train, and other transportation costs 

  • Accommodation expenses 

  • Meal allowances 

  • Miscellaneous expenses, such as Wi-Fi charges, tips, and parking fees 

Ensure each category is defined with specific examples to avoid ambiguity. 

Step 2: Establish Spending Limits & Approval Processes 

Set reasonable spending limits for different types of expenses to help manage costs effectively.  

Specify who in the organisation has the authority to approve expenses over these limits, and outline the process for obtaining approval for non-standard or unexpected expenses. 

Step 3: Specify Documentation Requirements 

Detail what documentation is required for an expense to be reimbursed. Typically, this would include: 

  • Receipts for all expenditures 

  • A completed expense report 

  • Proof of travel (e.g., boarding passes, hotel check-in confirmations) 

Clarify how and where to submit these documents and any deadlines associated with submission. 

Step 4: Outline Reimbursement Procedures 

Explain the process for submitting expenses, including how to fill out expense reports, where to send them, and the timeline for reimbursement.  

It’s important to ensure that this process is as streamlined as possible to encourage compliance and timely submissions. 

Integrate guidelines to ensure that the policy complies with local tax laws and regulations regarding employee reimbursements.  

This might involve consulting with a tax professional to ensure that all aspects of the policy are legally sound and that you are taking advantage of any tax benefits available for business travel expenses. 

Step 6: Implement Tools & Technology 

Consider using a specialised business expense tracker app like ExpenseIn to manage travel expenses more efficiently.  

These tools can help automate much of the expense management process, from submission to approval, and ensure compliance with the policy. They also provide valuable insights into spending patterns that can help further refine and optimise the policy. 

Step 7: Communicate & Train 

Once the policy is finalised, communicate it clearly to all employees.  

Consider holding training sessions to walk them through the new policy and procedures, especially focusing on how to submit expenses and any required documentation.  

Regular reminders about the policy and its importance can also help maintain compliance. 

Step 8: Regular Review & Updates 

Set a schedule to regularly review the travel expense policy to ensure it continues to meet the needs of the organisation and remains compliant with any changes in tax laws or business operations.  

This might involve annual reviews or more frequent checks depending on the volume of employee travel. 

Benefits of Automated Travel Expense Management Software 

Integrating automated finance software into your business operations can significantly improve how you handle employee travel expenses.  

Let's explore how tools like ExpenseIn streamline expense management, reduce errors, and enhance efficiency - perfect for those searching for the best solutions to manage travel expenses. 

Benefits of Automated Travel Expense Management Software

1. Simplifying Expense Submission & Approval 

Automated software makes it easier for everyone involved.  

Employees can quickly upload receipts and log their expenses directly from their smartphones, thanks to apps like ExpenseIn. This immediate approach eliminates the delays often associated with traditional paper-based methods.  

For managers, reviewing and approving expenses becomes a matter of a few clicks, speeding up the approval process and ensuring employees get reimbursed faster. 

2. Minimising Errors & Enhancing Accuracy 

One of the biggest advantages of using automated systems is the reduction in human errors. Manual data entry is often prone to mistakes, leading to potential financial discrepancies.  

ExpenseIn, for example, automatically extracts data from uploaded receipts, ensuring that the information is accurate and aligns with your company’s spending policies. This not only keeps things accurate but also aligns with compliance requirements, giving both employees and finance teams peace of mind. 

3. Increasing Visibility & Financial Control 

With automated travel expense management software, you gain real-time insights into how money is being spent. This level of visibility allows for better monitoring of expenditures and helps in maintaining tighter control over budgets.  

Managers can identify unusual spending patterns early, enforce policies effectively, and make smarter financial decisions based on detailed, real-time data. 

4. Ensuring Compliance & Preventing Fraud 

Staying compliant with both internal policies and external regulations is crucial.  

Automated software helps ensure that all expense reports meet your company’s guidelines and legal standards. Systems like ExpenseIn can flag expenses that don’t comply with policies or exceed set limits, which helps prevent overspending and potential fraud. 

5. Enhancing Employee Satisfaction 

Using an automated system can significantly improve the experience of reporting expenses for employees. The straightforward, user-friendly process reduces the hassle of expense reporting and speeds up reimbursements.  

When employees see that their time is valued and they are reimbursed quickly, it boosts job satisfaction and loyalty, which is essential for a happy and productive workplace. 

Using ExpenseIn for Managing Employee Travel Expenses 

Navigating employee travel expenses can be a complex and time-consuming task for any business.

That's where ExpenseIn comes in, providing an effortless expense management solution that brings all your needs into one easy-to-use system.  

ExpenseIn interface on mobile and laptopExpenseIn is designed to streamline how you create, approve, and report on expenses, making the process quicker, more accurate, and completely paperless. 

Key Features of ExpenseIn 

  • Mobile app: Manage and submit expenses anytime, anywhere with our easy-to-use mobile application. 

  • Receipt scanning: Automatically extract detailed information from receipts, reducing the need for manual data entry. 

  • Automated policies: Ensure compliance effortlessly with rules that automatically apply to all expense submissions. 

  • Advanced approvals: Utilise a flexible and fast approval process, allowing for multiple approval levels and instant notifications. 

  • Real-time reporting: Gain insights instantly with real-time data on expenditures, helping you make informed decisions quickly. 

  • Card reconciliation: Easily match corporate card transactions to expenses, simplifying the reconciliation process. 

  • Carbon reporting: Track and report your company’s carbon footprint with each trip, supporting your sustainability goals. 

  • Integrations: Seamlessly connect with your existing financial systems for a unified workflow and enhanced productivity. 

Book a Demo 

Ready to see how ExpenseIn can transform your expense management?  

Book a demo today and experience a smarter way to handle travel expenses. Join countless other businesses optimising their processes with ExpenseIn.