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Capital Allowances 101: A Musician's Guide to Tax Savings

How to Make the Most of Your Instrument Investments


An image of a saxophone

Many musicians will introduce an instrument or several into their business over the course of their working lives.  


Doing this enables the business (which is often, but not exclusively, you, the individual) to claim capital allowances on this asset. And capital allowances are a form of tax deduction specifically for assets that have longer lasting value to a business. 

 

They differ from annual trading expenses in that trading expenses have no onward value beyond their initial purchase date. Think of printer ink or a train ticket. An instrument, on the other hand, will enable you to take on work and generate value in your business for many years to come.  


And it is this recognition of value over an extended period of time that fundamentally distinguishes the expense from a trading expense.


But as with so many rules in the tax world, the capital allowances regime wasn’t conceived with musicians in mind.  And this throws up a number of additional considerations that should be borne in mind before you bring your lovely violin into your musician-business.


Types of Capital Allowances 

There are several types of capital allowances, but the most relevant ones for musicians are: 

  1. Annual Investment Allowance (AIA) 

  2. Writing Down Allowance (WDA) 

  3. First Year Allowances (FYA) 


1. Annual Investment Allowance (AIA) 

  • What it is: The AIA lets you deduct the full value of qualifying items bought within a given tax year. 

  • Limit: As of 2024, the limit is £1,000,000 per year, which is more than enough for most musicians. 

  • Qualifying items: Instruments, recording equipment, some software or perhaps a touring van (note that it must be a van rather than a car)  


2. Writing Down Allowance (WDA) 

  • What it is: If you’ve exceeded your AIA limit or the item doesn’t qualify for AIA, you can use the WDA. This allows you to deduct a percentage of the value of the item from your profits each year. 

  • Key points: Exceeding the limit is unlikely to be an issue for most musicians so the important aspect here is that AIA can only be claimed in the year of purchase. And many of you, particularly younger musicians just entering the profession are introducing assets which were bought for you by parents or generous benefactors. This means that the instrument is not being introduced in its year of purchase and in turn means you are limited to claiming writing down allowances rather than AIA. Typically, the instrument in this instance will be introduced at its market value at the time.  

  • Rates: Typically, 18% for most equipment, on a reducing balance basis. The reducing balance basis means that as you claim 18% of the value each year, the following year the corresponding starting point is lower by the previous years’ 18% claim. So the amount on which you are claiming the 18% reduces year on year. Eventually, the value will dip below £1,000 at which point you can claim the residue using the Small Pool Allowance and the full value of your asset will have been written off for tax purposes.  


3. First Year Allowances (FYA) 

  • What it is: Allows you to deduct the entire cost of qualifying items from your profits in the year of purchase. 

  • Qualifying items: These are often energy-saving or environmentally beneficial items, the most likely candidate for musicians will be an electric car. 


Image of a keyboard, a microphone and 4 guitars in one room


Practical Points: 

Exclusively for Business: The instrument must be used exclusively for your music business. If you use it for personal purposes as well, you'll need to adjust the allowance to reflect your personal usage of it. This applies irrespective of which type of capital allowance you are using i.e. AIA, WDA or FYA.  


Keep Detailed Records: Always keep detailed records of your purchases and usage. This is particularly important for instruments that you are likely to hold for many years where it is easy to lose track of its original value and date of introduction into your business. And its introduction value or cost value is really important for assets (read: instruments) that increase in value. Because the capital allowances regime was never really conceived with appreciating assets in mind. But musical instruments, particularly stringed instruments do appreciate and this has additional implications to bear in mind before you decide to introduce the instrument into your business.  


Fill in Your Tax Return: As a self-employed musician, you need to include your capital allowances on the self-employment pages of your tax return. Use the separate ‘capital allowances’ section, rather than the main expenses section to detail your claims. 


But here’s the bit all musicians need to be aware of:

Once you have introduced the asset into your business and claimed capital allowances, you must also recognise the sale of that asset in the future and make a corresponding adjustment in capital allowances.  


If your instrument has increased in value, the sale value, known as ‘proceeds’ is capped at the cost value you used when introducing the instrument. Phew!! Now you see why the record keeping is so important!  


So the proceeds of the sale of your instrument, less any residual written down value (likely to be £0 if you claimed AIA) will generate a tax bill in the year you sell it. And this is the case, even if your instrument has decreased in value and you are not using the capping option mentioned above.   


We need an example:  

You introduce a violin for £20,000 in 2008 and claim full AIA on it. This reduced your self-employment profits by £20,000 and saved you tax of £4,000 if you were a basic rate taxpayer at that time. For this example, we’re going to assume you were a musician at the onset of your career then and therefore, a basic rate taxpayer.  

You sell this violin in 2024 at a value of £55,000.  


The sale value that is reported in 2024 will be capped at the original cost of £20,000.  

 

But you’re now an established musician and your income is taxed at 40% or even 45% (but let’s say 40% for this example) which means you are now paying tax of £8,000 on an instrument that only saved you tax of £4,000 in the first place…


And this is the first reason you need to think carefully before you introduce your lovely instrument into your business.  


A row of violins


The second reason is that the introduction of the instrument will also trigger a requirement to report the gain in value under the capital gains tax (CGT) regime, even if under the normal rules it would be exempt. 

 

So for an example of this at the opposite end of the price spectrum, an instrument bought and sold for under £6,000 would normally be exempt from any CGT assessment but if you introduced it into your business and claimed capital allowances; then any gain is assessed under normal CGT rules.  

 

In practice, unless your annual allowance is being used up on other gains, this aspect is unlikely to cause a significant impact to your tax bill but is nevertheless worth bearing in mind.  

 

And the final comment on CGT is that the significant gain in example 1 where our violin increased in value from £20,000 to £55,000 will be assessed for CGT irrespective of whether you brought the instrument into your business or not.  

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