Accommodation and subsistence expenses: departmental guide

All accommodation and subsistence expenses must be in accordance with the four mandatory Principles.


Expenses Principles Logo. 1: value for money. 2: cannot pay directly.  3: no personal benefit. 4: evidence required.


  1. Value for money is achieved.

  2. Expenses should only be used when it is not possible and/or practical for the University to pay for the good or service directly.

  3. Costs incurred are for business purposes only, and the individual does not receive a personal benefit.

  4. Only actual and evidenced costs are reclaimed.


The University will only reimburse accommodation and subsistence (meals, beverages and limited incidental costs etc.) incurred while travelling for University business and where the travel occupies the whole or substantial part of the working day.

Subsistence payments for spouses, partners, family, friends or guests are not allowed unless they meet specified business travel conditions pre-approved by the department.


All expense claims should be supported by a valid reason for the claim, evidenced with receipts or proof of purchase AND properly recorded on the expense claim. Photocopies of receipts are acceptable when a bill has been split between colleagues. Authorisers should reject the claim if an appropriate reason is not included.


Departments should look out for patterns of behaviour with accommodation and subsistence expenses to ensure that value for money is being achieved.

University staff may not claim accommodation or subsistence rates per diem for themselves or on behalf of visiting academics.


Please Note

Subsistence does not include meals and refreshments bought for non-University personnel when travelling or conducting University business: t​​​his is classed as entertaining.


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Key Travel is the University’s preferred travel supplier and in accordance with Principle 2, hotel accommodation should be pre-booked through them whenever possible and paid for by the University directly. If a particular hotel is not available through Key Travel, it may be possible to book and pay for it through the University directly, prior to travel. If this is not possible, the cost may be reimbursed via expenses with full supporting evidence, including a VAT receipt/proof of purchase, and reason for travel.

Important Note:

Some hotels require the credit card used to place the booking at check-in. This should be clarified before booking as the traveller’s personal credit card may have to be used in this instance and costs re-claimed via expenses.


In the UK, the University considers reasonable rates for overnight accommodation to be:

  • up to £150 per night in major cities; or
  • up to £100 per night elsewhere.

The University uses HMRC's published benchmark rates as 'reasonable rates' guidance for overseas accommodation. Expense claims that exceed these values may be queried and could be rejected if costs are considered to be unreasonable.

The University does not pay an allowance per day for overnight accommodation. Only actual and evidenced costs may be claimed and in all cases, receipts or evidence must be provided.

Where meals are not included in the hotel cost, they may be claimed as subsistence through the expenses process. If the accommodation is inclusive of meals such as breakfast and/or evening meal, the claimant cannot then claim the cost of these meals if taken elsewhere.


ý Case Study Example - Disallowed scaled-up accommodation claim

Carroll is attending a conference in Newcastle and will be staying in a hotel for three nights. His hotel is charging £70 per night including breakfast. As the guidance rate is £150 per night, Carroll thinks he can claim £450 for his entire hotel stay instead of £210.

Under Principle 3 – A personal benefit is received. The cost difference received of £90 would be classed as a personal benefit under HMRC regulations and subject to income tax and national insurance. Carroll can only claim for the ACTUAL hotel costs incurred, with supporting receipts as evidence.

Examples of what accommodation costs can and should not be claimed:


þ UK hotel accommodation costs are higher than allowance rate due to large event taking place (sporting event, concert etc where hotel rooms are at a premium). Under Principle 3, this is a necessary business cost. The higher cost of room is a requirement and not a regular occurrence. Dated receipt/invoice to be submitted as evidence with valid reason for higher hotel cost.
ý Should not be claimed. Meals are included in hotel accommodation but prefer to eat in non-hotel restaurant. Under Principle 1, value for money is not achieved. The meal is being paid for twice.
ý Should not be claimed. In-house hotel movies or spa costs while travelling on University business. Under Principle 3, a personal benefit is received.
þ Pay, at personal cost, for upgrade to more expensive/deluxe room or hotel because individual prefers to stay in premium accommodation. Under Principle 1, value for money must be achieved. Only the University overnight rate per night and meal subsistence rate should be reimbursed. Receipt/proof of purchase must be included as evidence and the claim should be within the University overnight rates.

The University does not recommend the use of Airbnb. However, at departmental discretion, the University will reimburse the cost of Airbnb accommodation for overnight stays. The risks relating to Airbnb accommodation should be assessed in the usual way. All Airbnb accommodation should be appropriate in size for the number of guests. Overnight accommodation guidance rates also apply for all Airbnb bookings. The cost of an apartment or house for one individual is not value for money and should not be accepted.


Important note:

Prior to booking, it is the individual’s responsibility to undertake proper due diligence in regards to health and safety for themselves and of the establishment.
Please refer to the Guidelines for Airbnb   and Insurance pages for further information.


No overnight accommodation costs can be claimed for staying with friends or family while on University business. In addition, no payment in kind can be given by the claimant to the friend or family member that is subsequently reimbursed by the University as HMRC classifies the monetary value of this as a personal benefit received by the host. Prohibited examples include (but are not limited to):

  • cash sums of any amount;
  • the cost of meals eaten within the residence (take-aways, pizza deliveries, etc);
  • the cost of meals eaten outside the residence (restaurants and pubs etc); and
  • ‘thank you’ gifts of any value.

ý Case Study Example - Staying with friends or family

Shoona is visiting Edinburgh for 2 nights to attend a conference. To save her department money, she has arranged to stay with her friend in Leith instead of a hotel. To say thank you, Shoona takes her friend out to dinner which costs a total of £65 for them both, which Shoona plans to claim on expenses as it is seemingly saving the department £135.

Under Principle 3 – A personal benefit is received by Shoona’s friend. This meal is not classed as a business expense but a personal benefit under HMRC regulation and therefore cannot be reimbursed. Shoona should only have claimed for her own meal as subsistence.

When University personnel are required to work overseas for extended periods, there may be a number of issues that need to be considered. The arrangements and guidance for accommodation and living expenses should be discussed with the department, who can provide guidance and advice, before any arrangements are made.

University rules for claiming overnight accommodation, subsistence, and incidental expenses while overseas will still apply.

While traveling on University business that takes either the whole or substantial part of a working day, the reasonable and necessary costs of a meal with beverages for the traveller are allowed with supporting evidence/receipts. This includes:

  1. snacks;
  2. tea, coffee and soft drinks between meals ;
  3. reasonable levels of non-alcoholic drinks; and
  4. reasonable and appropriate levels of alcoholic drinks, for example 1-2 medium glasses of wine.

Reasonable rates, including beverages, for meals (without a tip) are:

  • breakfast: £10;
  • lunch: £10;
  • dinner: £25.

Reminder: the choice of meals and beverages consumed should be modest and reasonable with value for money being achieved in line with principle 1, with food being the main part of the total bill. Where meals are included in overnight accommodation, they may NOT be claimed if taken elsewhere.

Please note: meal rates are for each meal and CANNOT be accumulated.


ý Case Study Example - Disallowed scaled-up meal claim

Natalia is on a business trip for two nights in a hotel on a room only basis and has arranged to meet some colleagues for a meal on her last night. She decides to skip breakfast each day in order to spend £55 on her last evening meal. (Accumulation of the value of two breakfasts and an evening meal).

Under Principle 1 – Not value for money. The value of the last evening meal is greater than the acceptable University meal rate. If Natalia chooses to skip a meal, she cannot accumulate the cost onto the next or another meal. Natalia should only be reimbursed £25 as per the evening meal rate.

ý Case Study Example - Disallowed expenses claim for a meal 

Calvin is in Paris to work on a joint research project.  He has accommodation in a local hotel for three nights on a bed and breakfast rate. He likes the look of a little Bistro that opens early and decides to eat breakfast there on his second morning at a cost of 10.75 euros, instead of in his hotel.

Under Principle 1 – Value for money is not achieved as Calvin has, in effect, paid for breakfast twice. This is an unnecessary cost and should not be reimbursed. Calvin should have eaten breakfast in the hotel to avoid this extra cost.

Examples of what meals and beverages can and should not be claimed:


þ Breakfast/dinner when travelling early morning or due to arrive home late evening. Under Principle 3, no personal benefit is received as the individual is travelling out of working hours or for substantial part of working day. Dated receipt/invoice to be submitted as evidence with details of subsistence.
þ Sandwich and coffee lunch at Paddington train station travelling to/from a meeting when lunch not provided. Under Principle 3, no personal benefit is received as the individual travelling for substantial part of working day. Dated receipt/invoice to be submitted as evidence with details of subsistence.
þ Lunch and dinner while abroad on University business as not included in hotel accommodation. Under Principle 3, no personal benefit is received as the individual travelling for substantial part of working day. Dated receipt/invoice to be submitted as evidence with details of subsistence. Cost to remain within University meal rates.
ý Should not be claimed. Accumulation of unspent meal rates to put towards a more expensive meal. Under Principle 3, a personal benefit is received. The meal rate value is not claimable. Only evidenced subsistence costs can be claimed.
ý Should not be claimed. Choosing to eat in a separate location to place where meals are provided are included in cost. Under Principle 1, this is not value for money and the additional cost is unnecessary. This is not a claimable expense.
þ Large glass of wine to accompany dinner while in overnight accommodation. Under Principle 1, the cost is reasonable and not excessive. Dated receipt/invoice to be submitted as evidence with details of subsistence.
ý Should not be claimed. Hotel/bar drinks bill accompanying a meal. For example: Two cocktails before the meal, three large glasses of wine with dinner and a large brandy after dessert. Under Principle 1, this is not value for money. The cost of such alcoholic beverages may be depicted as excessive. Expenses claim should only list reasonable costs and receipt/invoice to be submitted as evidence.
ý Should not be claimed. Hotel mini-bar costs for alcohol. Under Principle 1, this is not value for money and the cost of alcoholic drinks is unnecessary. Not a claimable expense.
þ Hotel mini-bar costs for bottled water and soft drinks when necessary. Under Principle 1, this is a necessary cost. Dated receipt/invoice to be submitted as evidence with details of subsistence.

Service charges or tips should only be paid where they relate to an allowable business meal at a reasonable level. The University rate for reasonable tips is 15% (rounded up to the nearest pound). However, different countries may require other considerations. Any expense claims with tips over 15% must include a reasonable explanation as to why such a percentage/cost of tip was considered necessary.


Authorised signatories should be satisfied with this explanation BEFORE approving the expense claim. If a regular pattern emerges over time, the payment should be declined.


Costs for the use of internet and/or data charges required for business related activity may be reimbursed. Data charges incurred for personal entertainments (for example: data costs to download/watch a movie on a PC or tablet) should not be reimbursed.

When an individual is expected to stay overnight on University business, the following limited incidental expenses are allowed:

  • personal telephone calls;
  • refreshments not taken with a meal; and
  • newspapers, journals, etc.

In accordance with HMRC regulations, the combined total of incidental expenses should not exceed the following amounts:

  • in the UK - £5 per night;
  • abroad - £10 per night

All incidental expenses must be properly recorded on the expense claim supported with receipts (or bills).  Only actual costs will be reimbursed.

For further information, visit HMRC Guidance on Incidental Overnight Expenses.

Important note:

If the total amount paid on incidental expenses exceeds the maximum tax free amount (above) for the period of overnight accommodation, the entire payment becomes taxable, not just the excess.


ý  Case Study Example - disallowed overnight incidental expenses

John is in Canada conducting admission interviews for his Master’s degree programme. He is travelling for a total period of five nights. When he returns to the UK, he submits his expenses claim that includes a total of £76 for incidental expenses. This should not be claimed.

Under Principle 3 – A personal benefit is received. As the total claim exceeds the maximum threshold of £50 (£10 per night), HMRC class the entire overnight incidental expenses claim as a personal benefit. Therefore, John will be required to pay tax and National Insurance on the total claim of £76 through payroll. To avoid this, John should have stayed within the £10 per night limit.

Laundry bills may be reimbursed if the claimant is required to stay away from home for longer than one week. Unnecessary or excessive laundry costs will not be reimbursed. All claims must be accompanied by the appropriate receipts.

ý Case Study Example - Unreasonable laundry costs

Katherine is due to travel to America for a week and as she has been so busy in the weeks leading up to her trip, she has been unable to get her clothes laundered in time. As soon as she arrives in America and checks in to her hotel, Katherine calls the laundry service to ensure her clothes are clean for the coming week. Looking at her work schedule, Katherine realises that her next two weeks back in Oxford are also going to be very busy with meetings and conferences, and therefore she decides to use the hotel laundry service prior to her departure, to save having to launder her clothes on her return to the UK.

Under Principle 1 – Value for money is not received and under Principle 3 a personal benefit is received. It is Katherine’s personal responsibility to ensure she has sufficient clean clothes for the duration of one week away and to launder them herself on her return. The University will not reimburse laundry costs for personal benefit.

Items of a more personal nature outside those listed under Incidental Expenses will not reimbursed by the University, these include but are not limited to: toiletries and travel sized toiletries, luggage, clothing, luxury chocolates, personal phone or IT equipment, gym, spa or personal entertainment costs, etc.

Where these items are included in a bill or receipt, they should be deducted from the expense claim. The University will NOT reimburse a claimant for these items.

ý Case Study Example - Disallowed claim for personal Items

Rebecca is in Munich to visit her research partners. In the evening, she decides to watch a pay per view film in her hotel room at a cost of 5 euros which will be detailed on her hotel invoice.  This is classed as a personal entertainment item and should not be claimed.

Under Principle 3 – Personal benefit is received. The cost of the film is not for business purposes, and should not be reimbursed. Rebecca should not have included this item on her expenses claim.

ý Case Study Example - Disallowed claim for personal clothing

Sally is working ‘in the field’ on her research overseas and while she is there, she has been invited to speak as a guest at a conference. Unfortunately, Sally did not pack a suit for her trip and has decided to purchase one especially for the occasion and claim it back through expenses.  This is not a business expense.

Under Principle 3 – Personal benefit is received. Although the suit will be worn by Sally at the conference, it is classed as a personal item as she will own and wear it on other occasions. Sally should not have included this item on her expenses claim and the cost should not be reimbursed.

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