Making money online: when your hobby becomes taxable income

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Date: 22 June 2021

A leatherworker makes products to sell online

A hobby is an activity performed for fun, whether that's making art prints of movie stills or teaching guitar basics on YouTube. When this activity becomes monetised, that's when you draw the attention of HMRC and your hobby may be regarded as a business.

Once your income (not profit) exceeds the annual trading allowance of £1,000, you need to declare this income to HMRC. However, if the sole purpose of your activity is to turn a profit, then you're running a business and must advise HMRC once your annual income exceeds £1,000. Of course, you might just be selling old clothes on the likes of eBay or Depop in order to make a little pocket money, and if these are your personal possessions then there is no need to report this to HMRC.

To help keep you on the right side of the taxman, we've invited Mike Parkes from GoSimpleTax to explain this further – as well as outline your next steps if you need to report taxable income.

What is the trading allowance?

If you're selling across the likes of Facebook Marketplace, Etsy or eBay in your spare time, then you have a set amount of money you can earn before you're required to tell HMRC. Specifically, you can earn up to £1,000 a year tax-free. This is what's known as your trading allowance.

To make sure you don't exceed the amount, keep a log of all sales made across each platform. This protects you in the event of an HMRC investigation and helps you stay on the right side of your tax-free allowance of £1,000. Of course, if you don't have any other earnings aside from those you get from your online selling, you won't pay tax until you earn more than your Personal Allowance.

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What is my Personal Allowance?

Your Personal Allowance is the amount of taxable income you can make before you incur income tax. It takes account of your income from employment, rental income, and any profit you make from trading online as well as any income from other sources. Therefore, if the items you sell online result in profits of less than £12,570 annually (the Personal Allowance as of 2021/22), and you have no other sources of income, you won't be charged any Income Tax.

Once you exceed that amount, you'll be taxed:

  • 20% on the portion of earnings between £12,571 and £50,270
  • 40% on the portion of earnings between £50,271 to £150,000
  • 45% on the portion of earnings over £150,000

The same is true if you pay tax through PAYE as an employee and earn more than your trading allowance. You'll be charged income tax according to the total amount of taxable income that you earn.

Do I have to file a tax return for my hobby business?

You have to file a Self Assessment tax return if you exceed your trading allowance, regardless of whether you're employed. You'll need to report all the sales you've made along with any associated business expenses. But before you do this, you'll need to register for Self Assessment. How you do this will depend on if you're self-employed or not.

Once you've registered, you'll receive a letter with your Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number. This reference number is essential to using HMRC's Self Assessment service and takes 10 days to arrive, so make sure you before your deadline. Once your UTR arrives, you'll need to wait for your activation letter, which comes with your activation code. Only once you have both are you able to file your tax return.

Can I lower my tax bill?

As an 'online business' filing a tax return via self assessment, you can claim for your business expenses. Business expenses are purchases you make that can be claimed back on in your tax return, provided the purchase was for business purposes. For example, you may be able to claim for:

  • office supplies – any stationery you use, envelopes or printing costs
  • delivery costs – postage and packaging costs
  • website charges – either for your own website or the fees for using a selling site
  • bank and credit card fees and charges incurred from selling online
  • marketing and advertising costs such as adverts you may run on seller sites

You might even be able to reduce the cost of running your home! A portion of your utility bills, council tax, and telephone and internet costs can be considered a business expense, depending on the amount of time you spend using your house as a base for your online selling. All you need to do is keep a log of the expenses you're claiming, and store evidence for them should HMRC ask for it, and you'll potentially reduce your total tax bill.

Getting the most out of your online sales

If your hobby tips slightly into business territory, don't panic. Registering for Self Assessment and completing your tax return is straightforward provided you have the right tools and act early. If your sales exceed £1,000, register as soon as you can, and ensure you keep records of your income and expenses to include them on your tax return.

From there, you'll be able to work out your profit and possibly lower your total bill by making sure you have recorded all allowable expenses. There is software available that can be used to make filing your tax return easier and flag up any potential business expenses you might have missed. Do a little research, and you can ensure that you stay in the taxman's good books when your hobby becomes taxable income.

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2021 Mike Parkes, GoSimpleTax - tax return software that can help you manage your self-assessment.

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