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Relief for losses in the early years of a trade

July 9, 2021

It is not uncommon to realise a loss in the early years of a trade. However, traders who commenced their self-employment in 2019 or 2020 may also have suffered as a result of the pandemic. Although the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) provided help for traders who also suffered from the impact of the pandemic, those who started trading in 2019/20 were unable to benefit from the first three grants (qualifying only for grants 4 and 5 if they had filed their 2019/20 tax return by 2 March 2021 and met the other eligibility criteria). Traders who started a business in 2020/21 are not able to benefit from the SEISS.

However, they may be able to claim loss relief under the early trade losses relief rules, and generate a tax repayment in the process.

Nature of the relief

The relief for losses in the early years of the trade allows a trader who makes a trading loss in any of the first four years of a new trade to carry that loss back against taxable income of the previous three years. The loss is set against the income of the earliest year first.

Accruals basis not cash basis

Relief for the loss under these rules is only available where the accounts are prepared on the accruals basis. Thus, if losses in the early years are likely, it is worth considering preparing accounts using the accruals basis to open up a claim to relief. This relief is not available where accounts are prepared under the cash basis – where this is the case, the loss can be carried back against any previous trading profits of the same trade, should they exist, or carried forward and set against future profits of the same trade.

Case study

Polly was employed as a beautician earning £25,000 a year prior to setting up her own beauty business on 1 June 2020. Her business was badly affected by the pandemic, and in the 10 months to 5 April 2021, she makes a loss of £10,000. This is a loss for the 2020/21 tax year.

She can carry the loss in her first year back against her income of 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20, setting the loss against her income for 2017/18 first.

She carries the loss back to 2017/18, setting it against her employment income for that year of £25,000, reducing her taxable income to £15,000 in the process. Carrying the loss back generates a tax repayment of £2,000 (£10,000 @ 20%).

Personal allowances may be lost

It should be noted that the loss carried back cannot be tailored to preserve personal allowances, which may be lost as a result.


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