In the Armed Forces you're not just eating to survive. You're fuelling the most important machine there is: your body. It's not easy to keep yourself in peak working order, it takes anywhere from 3,750 - 6,550 calories a day to keep a military body moving, and it's not cheap either. That's why it's so important to get the most from the money you’re paying for food.

There are still far too many MOD personnel missing out on the tax relief they could be claiming for food. Although a lot of personnel now know about getting their travel refund, many people still don't know you can get tax relief on the costs of meals.

Some assume it's not worth the hassle and paperwork to claim what they expect will be a small tax refund. Those £5 and £10 here and there add up though and you could be missing out on getting an additional £250 a year back in your wallet – this is on top of your tax refund for travel.

What do you think the average person spends on their food at work during a lifetime? Recent research shows that just a sandwich at lunchtime, a few teas, coffees or soft drinks and maybe a snack or two means you’ll spend out an incredible £90,000 during that time at an average of £8.71 per day.

Whichever Service you're in, missing out on tax relief for food means letting HMRC eat away at your yearly refund. Claiming back your meal costs could make your tax refund 35% bigger every year, and see you getting an extra £12,000 or more back over your working life if you claim every year. Those kinds of numbers are definitely worth claiming for.

You've got a lot on your plate already, we know. However, it really doesn't take much work to get the most out of the tax relief you're entitled to. Like everything else in the military life, it's about being disciplined and systematic. Just drilling a few good habits into your daily routine could make all the difference.

With all bases now being Pay As You Dine here are some pointers:

  • If you pay directly in the Cookhouse or Mess, you're probably paying in cash and you might not get a receipt. We need to have evidence of your personal expenditure so that we can claim the tax relief on it so make sure you keep a record in some of the ways listed above.
  • If you’re an officer you probably have the option to sign for your food and get an expenses receipt at the end of the month. You can keep the print out, but it’s probably easier to take a photo or screen grab of it and save it on your computer. If you haven’t been keeping these receipts, then you should be able to ask for copies of them as they should be available from your administration department.
  • If you’re part of the Hungry Soldier Scheme, then you sign for your meals and the cost is taken directly out of your salary in arrears. This should be visible on your payslips.

It’s also a good idea to take a photo of the price board or menu as extra evidence of your claim. If the menu doesn’t change you don’t have to take the same picture everyday – just one to show the prices is fine.

If you haven’t been good at keeping receipts to date, start keeping them from now on to make claiming easier next year. You wouldn’t throw away a £5 note, so don’t throw away your receipts as that’s what they could be worth to you. 

You don't need to send us everything, but we do need to know that you’ve got that evidence in case we need to prove your spending to HMRC. Having this evidence is what makes sure your refund is covered by our RIFT Guarantee so tax man can’t ask for it back.

It also makes a difference where you're living.

  • If you're in married quarters, for example, what you can claim for depends on quite a few facts about your personal situation. Any meals you eat in the cookhouse or mess can be claimed for as normal though.
  • If you're in single quarters, on the other hand, the rules are slightly different again. If you eat out or get a takeaway, you should keep a record.  
  • If you're in Substitute Living Single Accomodation (SSA) you’ll get an additional allowance given to purchase food as you won’t be entitled to use the Cookhouse. You get this as a supplement in your pay so you can only claim if your expenses exceed the amount of the allowance.

Wherever you're living the best thing to do is keep a record of everything and we will keep you on the right side of HMRC. It's better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

It also matters what branch of the Service you're in and your role within it. In the Royal Navy, for instance, your meals are provided while you're at sea. Since they aren't costing you anything, you obviously can't include them in your tax refund claim. Remember to keep records of any meals you buy onshore, though. A lot of people are missing out by assuming that these don't count either. As a general rule, if your food's being provided for you (such as when you're deployed) you can't claim anything for it. Anything else needs to be kept track of.

It’s generally cheaper to eat on base than outside the wire, but if you do eat elsewhere you can still claim these costs as long as we know you have evidence of what you spent.

When you spend your working life serving your country, the last thing you want is the taxman taking food out of your mouth. RIFT Refunds are the UK's top tax experts, and we're proud to work with MOD personnel every day. We've been keeping HMRC on their toes since 1999.

Let us take care of the bean counting, while you just concentrate on eating enough of them!

Read more about tax refunds for food expenses.