HMRC Averaging Adjustment

The HMRC averaging adjustment is a special relief for sole traders, in particular authors, writers and artists who have a fluctuating income or receive lump sums of up-front money, helping them to spread out the tax they pay over one or two years.

How Does the Averaging Adjustment Work?

Sole traders with a fluctuating income often face high business profits in one tax year followed by lower profits in a subsequent year. That results in paying a higher tax bill, at higher income tax rates with the hassle of filling out paperwork to carry-back tax losses to get a tax refund, not to mention the pressure on cashflow!

The HMRC averaging adjustment lets individuals reduce the tax they pay in an unusually high income year by using an average of two years profits. That way it evens out fluctuations and the tax they have to pay.

Example of the Author Averaging Rules

Eddie is a writer and receives an advance for a new book of £50,000 in the tax year 2019/2020 and knows that as a result of writing the book his profits will be lower in the next tax year 2020/2021.

He estimates his profits for each of the tax years will look like this:

2019/2020 £55,000
2020/2021 £10,000

Without using the author averaging rules, Eddie would need to pay tax of £9,500 with additional national insurance in 2019/2020, but no tax in 2020/2021.

By apply the averaging adjustment, Eddie can use the average profit for both years when he filling in his tax return. The averaging amount would be £32,500 which is worked out as (£55,000 + £10,000 = £65,000) ÷ 2.

In his 2019/2020 tax return he will need to enter:

Net Business Profit £55,000
Less: averaging adjustment £32,500
Adjusted Profits £22,500

Eddies needs to pay income tax of £2,000 for 2019/2020 plus class 2 and class 4 national insurance.

In his next tax return for 2020/2021 he will need to enter the following:

Net Business Profit £10,000
Add: averaging adjustment £32,500
Adjusted Profits £42,500

Eddies needs to pay income tax of £6,000 for 2020/2021 plus class 2 and class 4 national insurance.

By using the averaging rules, Eddie will pay £8,000 in income tax rather than £9,500 by declaring it all in one tax year and paying higher rate income tax at 40%.

If you estimate a loss this is treated as zero, it can’t be used to reduce the averaging adjustment.

Payments on Account

The averaging adjustment will help to reduce payments on account, which is a contribution towards your next years tax bill. In the example above, if Eddie didn’t adjust his profits he would have to pay tax on account of 50% in January and July based on his unadjusted profits of £55,000. By averaging his profits, this figure falls meaning his advance payment does too.

Who Can Claim the Averaging Adjustment

Commonly the averaging adjustment is claimed by literary and artistic individuals because they have fluctuating profits and:

  • It is not the first or last year of being self-employed;
  • The cash basis is not used for calculating business profits;
  • Profits of one year are less than 75% of the previous or subsequent tax year.

It is most commonly claimed by:

  • Authors receiving an advance for a new book;
  • Software developers whose income comes from royalties for reproducing the copyright-protected code they’ve written.

Who Cannot Claim the Averaging Adjustment

You cannot claim the averaging adjustment if your profits come services that you provide, for example, if you are a software developer who has income from writing code for others not code that you own and permit others to use.

How to Claim the Averaging Adjustment

Sole traders can claim the adjustment when they fill in their tax return online in the self-employment section using box 72 and 73.

About Anita Forrest

Anita Forrest is a Chartered Accountant, spreadsheet geek, money nerd and creator of - the UK small business finance blog for the self-employed community. Here she shares simple, straight-forward guides to make self-employment topics like taxes, bookkeeping and banking easy to understand.