Updated 03 December 2020
Even if it’s just a laptop, a desk and chair, your business needs equipment to operate. Many small businesses end up using a great deal of equipment, from office furniture to plant and machinery. Whatever you use, these pieces of kit are so pivotal to the running of your business that they have special tax treatment. They are known as ‘capital assets’.
Capital assets (sometimes called fixed assets) are any significant pieces of equipment used for longer than a year and not sold as a regular part of your operations. For example, if you renovate camper vans then each individual van is not a capital asset, but your own van and tools etc. would be.
They are called capital assets because you have to spend money on them as part of your operations, but they are not part of your day-to-day costs like heating and power. They are also ‘fixed’ because you use them regularly over the long-term. To qualify as a capital asset, the item must be owned mostly for its contribution to your business. If you own a car that functions as both your personal car and the one you use to visit clients, it may not qualify (depending on how the use is shared out).
The size of your company is also a factor when it comes to whether or not something is defined as a capital asset. For a small business, spending £600 on a computer could be a significant enough transaction to qualify it as a capital asset. However, for a larger company with a big workforce and a higher employee turnover, this kind of purchase would be considered a regular running cost.
The main reason to get to grips with your capital assets is that they are treated differently from other assets, both in terms of tax and in your accounts. Failure to treat capital assets correctly may mean that you pay more tax than you have to, or conversely it may prompt an investigation from HMRC.
Due to their long-term nature, capital assets need to go on your balance sheet. This creates a challenge, because over the years that you own the asset, its value will decrease. This is called depreciation, and has to be considered in the accounting process.
The fact that you are regularly using the asset means this depreciation can be thought of as occurring in a regular fashion. Every year, part of the asset’s value needs to be deducted from your business’ profits. You can work out the rate of depreciation as either a percentage of the asset’s total cost, or as a percentage of its value at the start of the year.
The depreciation in the value of your capital assets is also important for the way they are treated for tax purposes. HMRC doesn’t consider depreciation to be an allowable expense, so although it must be removed from your profit, it needs to be added back when working out how much tax you need to pay. However, HMRC does grant tax relief on some of your capital assets – which is good, but adds yet another layer of administration.
Tax relief on capital assets comes in the form of capital allowances.
Capital allowances provide tax relief for your capital expenditure. You can claim capital allowances on assets you buy for your business, including your capital assets.
The Annual Investment Allowance (AIA) currently allows businesses to spend up to £1 million a year on new assets and then deduct that cost from their taxable profits. You can’t claim AIA on some assets, including cars, assets introduced from another business (e.g. using the same computer) and personal assets you happen also to use in your business.
There is also a 100 per cent first-year allowance that means you can claim back tax on an asset in the year you purchase it.
As a business owner you may struggle to keep track of how your various assets are classified for tax and accounting purposes. An accountant can ensure you are paying exactly the right amount of tax and also ensure that capital assets are properly treated on the balance sheet.
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