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Small business tax: what you need to pay

From corporation tax to VAT, and capital gains tax to capital allowance, find out how these taxes work when you run a small business

In this article
Coronavirus (Covid-19) tax update What taxes do small businesses pay? Corporation tax Value Added Tax (VAT) Business rates
Dividend tax Income tax National Insurance Capital Gains Tax (CGT) Capital allowances

Coronavirus (Covid-19) tax update

The government has introduced a range of measures to support employed and self-employed workers, as well as small businesses that have been affected by the coronavirus crisis.

Keep on top of the latest news and advice related to the Covid-19 pandemic with Which?

What taxes do small businesses pay?

The type of tax you pay when you run a small business, and the method you pay it, will depend on your company's business structure. 

A sole trader's tax bill will differ from that of a limited company, or a partnership.

In this guide, we'll outline the taxes you can expect to pay when running a business, and how they're calculated. You can find out more detailed information on our guide to each specific tax.


Corporation tax

19% - limited companies

Corporation tax is applied to the profits earned by limited companies - not sole traders or partners.

It's calculated after salaries and other business expenses have been paid, but before dividends are withdrawn.

Unlike income tax, companies don't benefit from any kind of personal allowance, so tax must be paid on all profits.

Corporation tax has a flat 19% charge, regardless of how much profit the company makes.

How to pay

As each business's accounting year is different, filing and paying corporation tax can be tricky.

Each year, you'll need to submit a CT600 form to HMRC - also known as a company tax return - providing details of the company's income, as well as deductions for tax allowances and expenses. This is due 12 months from the end of your company's accounting date. 

However, you'll need to pay your corporation tax bill nine months and one day after the end of your company's accounting date. So, in practice, it makes sense to complete your company tax return early to find out how much corporation tax you owe.

It's down to the business to declare how much corporation tax it needs to pay. HMRC won't instruct you.

You could risk a HMRC fine if you pay your tax late, file your tax return after the deadline, or providing inaccurate information.

To pay, you must log into your HMRC account and choose a payment method, including online payment, direct debit, company credit card, or via your bank. You can also make payments over the phone. 

You can't use a private credit card, and you can no longer pay at a Post Office.

Find out more: what is corporation tax?

Value Added Tax (VAT)

20% - customers of VAT-registered businesses

VAT is a tax that's added to most goods and services. Most things attract the standard VAT rate of 20%, but some - including children's car seats and home energy -  have a reduced rate of 5%.

If your company is VAT-registered, you must charge your customers VAT on top of your prices. But you'll also be able to reclaim VAT that you pay on business expenses.

Companies don't have to register for VAT unless their annual taxable turnover exceeds the VAT threshold, which in 2021-22 is £85,000.

However, you can do so voluntarily. This gives you the advantage of claiming VAT back for anything you purchase for your business - including the likes of laptops, tools and stationery. However, it does mean you'll have to submit VAT returns to HMRC.

To help businesses during the coronavirus outbreak, the government allowed VAT payments due before 30 June 2020 to be deferred until 31 March 2021. This applies to UK VAT-registered businesses that have a payment due between 20 March 2020 and 30 June 2020.

Further help is being offered with the VAT Deferral New Payment Scheme – the online service is open between 23 February 2021 and 21 June 2021 and will allow businesses that join to pay in smaller monthly instalments.

How to pay

You have to submit VAT returns every three months, even if you have no VAT to pay or reclaim. 

As of 1 April 2019, businesses must send their returns under the new Making Tax Digital initiative.

This requires you to register for Making Tax Digital, keep digital VAT records and submit your VAT returns to HMRC using compatible software.

Find out more: self-employed VAT return

Business rates

If your business is run from an office, shop, factory or warehouse - anywhere that isn't a domestic property - then it's likely you'll be charged business rates on this property.

In a similar way to council tax, business rates bills are calculated and sent out by local authorities. You'll usually receive the bills in February or March, detailing what you need to pay for the financial year starting on the following 1 April.

To help businesses during the coronavirus outbreak, the government is offering a 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality, leisure and nursery businesses in England. You may be eligible for grant funding of £25,000 if your retail, hospitality or leisure business is in a property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000.

Business rates are calculated on the property's 'rateable value' meaning its estimated value on the open market if you were to sell it. The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) carries out revaluations of commercial properties. The most recent revaluation came into effect on 1 April 2017, and refers to values as of 1 April 2015.

There are a few instances where you can be charged business rates if you run a business from your home. This could happen if:

  • you employ staff who come and work at your home
  • you sell goods or services from your home to customers who visit the property
  • you've adapted your home to work there - for instance, converted a garage
  • the property is part-business and part-domestic - for instance, a pub with living quarters above it.

HMRC has further details on how to estimate your business rates.

Small business rates relief

If your property's rateable value is less than £15,000, and your business only uses one site, you may be able to get business rates relief.

For properties with a rateable value of less than £12,000, you'll pay no business rates. For properties with a rateable value between £12,001 and £15,000, the rate of relief will gradually reduce from 100% to 0%.

So, for example, if your property's rateable value is £14,000 you'll get 33% off your business rates.

To apply for this relief, you'll need to contact your local council.

To help businesses during the coronavirus outbreak, the government is offering small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief.

How to pay

Business rates are paid to the local authority where your business premises is located. Like council tax, most councils split the bill into 10 payments, to be paid over the course of 12 months.

Most will accept various payment methods such as direct debit, paying by phone, online and at your own bank.

Dividend tax

7.5% - basic rate

32.5% - higher rate

38.1% - additional rate

If you're a company shareholder, you can pay yourself in dividends. The first £2,000 are tax-free, but if you receive any more than this, you'll have to pay dividend tax

The rate you'll pay depends on your income tax band. Basic-rate taxpayers pay at 7.5%; higher-rate taxpayers pay 32.5% and it's 38.1% for those who pay additional-rate tax.

If your only income is from dividends, you can use up your personal allowance in addition to your dividend allowance. 

For the 2021-22 tax year, that means you can earn the £12,570 personal allowance, plus the £2,000 dividend allowance - meaning you could earn a total of £14,570 from shares before having to pay any tax.

To reduce the tax you pay further, you could transfer shares into a stocks and shares Isa to avoid paying tax in the future. However, you'll be limited to deposits of £20,000 into an Isa in each tax year.

How to pay

You need to include any dividend income in your self-assessment tax return.

Find out more: dividend tax

Income tax

20% - basic rate

40% - higher rate

45% - additional rate

Income tax is only payable by individuals, so business owners won't have to pay any income tax for the business itself.

However, if their wage is above the personal allowance (£12,570 for the 2021-22 tax year), they'll be liable to pay income tax.

The amount you pay will depend on your tax band. Keep in mind that other earnings - like dividends, savings interest or capital gains - may also count towards your income, and push you into a higher tax band.

How to pay

If you're a sole trader, you'll pay income tax on the profit you make from your business. You'll need to submit a self-assessment tax return to HMRC to calculate how much you owe.

If you're paid by the company, income tax will be taken through the company's PAYE scheme. It's at this point you'll also pay any personal National Insurance contributions you owe.

Find out more: tax rates and allowances

National Insurance

13.8% - employer NI contribution

If your business employs people, you'll need to pay the employer's portion of National Insurance contributions directly to HMRC. Businesses pay 13.8% in NICs for employees with earnings above £9,568 per year in 2021-22.

However, you may be able to reduce your NICs by up to £3,000 if the business is eligible for the Employment Allowance. This was launched in April 2014 with an aim to help small businesses recruit more staff. 

From April 2020, only organisations with NICs of less than £100,000 will be eligible.

In addition, if you're employed by your limited company, your National Insurance contributions will be taken automatically through payroll. 

Sole traders pay National Insurance as part of self-assessment tax.

For the 2021-22 tax year, self-employed NIC works like this: 

  • those with profits of less than £6,515 won't be required to pay.
  • those earning between £6,515 and £9,568 will pay Class 2 contributions of £3.05 per week
  • profits between £9,568 and £50,270 will qualify for 9% class 4 contributions (plus Class 2)
  • anything over £50,270 will be charged a Class 4 rate of 2%.

Find out more: National Insurance rates

Capital Gains Tax (CGT)

10% - basic rate

20% - higher and additional rate

CGT is payable when you sell something for a profit. For individuals, this tends to be possessions. For small business owners, it's paid if you sell or give away an asset, shares or your whole company.

The rate you pay will depend on your individual income tax - basic-rate taxpayers pay 10%, while higher-and additional- rate taxpayers pay 20%. If you're selling a property that's not your main home, the rate rises to 18% for basic-rate payers and 28% for higher- or additional-rate payers.

Bear in mind that capital gains will count towards your income for the year, so a large profit could push you into a higher tax bracket.

To work out how much you'll pay on the sale of your business, you can take the sales price, and deduct what you paid for it, as well as any investments in the business and costs related to buying or selling it. Then you're left with the gains.

From this, you can deduct your personal capital gains allowance. In 2021-22 individuals can earn up to £12,300 before tax, and couples can pool their allowances.

You can find out more in our guide to how capital gains are taxed

Entrepreneurs' relief

In some circumstances, you may be able to claim entrepreneurs' relief to reduce the CGT you have to pay. If you qualify, you'll pay a lower CGT rate of 10% on the first £1m of gains. 

This allowance is applied per person, rather than per business that you sell.

You may be able to claim if:

  • you are a sole trader or partner selling part or all of your business or its assets
  • you control at least 5% of the company's net assets, of which you are selling and are entitled to 5% of it distributable profits
  • you sell assets from the business within three years of closing down.

You'll need to have been in qualifying circumstances for at least two years, and the relief doesn't apply to property portfolios - though the one exception is furnished holiday letting businesses.

Any gains above the £1m threshold will be taxed at the full CGT rate.

How to pay

You'll need to include capital gains as part of your income tax return.

Capital allowances

You can claim capital allowances when you buy certain tools to use in your business, such as company vehicles, equipment and machinery.

You can deduct some or all of the cost of these items from your profits before paying tax, which will reduce your tax bill.

The annual investment allowance (AIA) for sole traders, partners and limited companies has been temporarily increased to £1m until December 2021. This is applied to the portion of a company's tax period before 1 January 2022. The AIA is £200,000 for the portion of the tax period on or after 1 January 2022

You can also use the 'writing down allowance' for assets that fall outside the AIA rules.

We explain how it works in our guide to self-employed capital allowances

How to claim

Sole traders can claim as part of their tax return. Partners claim through a partnership tax return and limited companies can use a company tax return.

If you're a sole trader or partner with an income of less than £150,000 a year, you may be able to use a simpler 'cash basis' system instead.