Life

This Is How Sex Workers Do Their Taxes

We asked an escort and an adult actress whether you can file dildos as an HMRC business expense and more.
April 1, 2020, 8:45am
Sex worker taxes
Illustration by Esme Blegvad

Taxes are like the flu – widespread, pervasive, and ready to strike around the same time of year, every year. No one is immune to the call of the annual tax return, and that includes the sex workers who collectively get the country off.

For those who’ve always wondered how adult actresses and escorts pay their taxes and if it is, in fact, legal to write off lingerie and dildos, or if you're a sex worker yourself, we got some answers to these burning questions.

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Escort and high-class companion Valerie August has spent the better part of a decade as an international playgirl offering her “unique mixture of BDSM skills and intimate GFE (girlfriend experience) dynamics" to her clientele, using her time to perfect the art of making her work, work for her. She knows her shit.

“For independent escorts like me, self-employed status is a good fit in terms of how we generally work. For this reason, sex workers may mistakenly think HMRC doesn’t expect a tax return from them, but you are still meant to file a tax return even if you’ve made less than £12,500 which is the tax-free allowance," August tells me.

"If you have another side hustle, like selling homemade stuff on Etsy, that needs to be addressed in your self-assessment tax return, where there is a section for each business.”

The side hustle August refers to is common for escorts and adult actresses who profit from selling items like signed photos, shoes, and items of unused clothing from video shoots.

“I might go to the shops and go into the changing room with clothes and stick the phone down on the floor,” says adult actress Tanya Tate. Tate is referring to the popular practice of live streaming from a changing room while trying on outfits bought by her fans.

“They'll send you like a nice tip and then you send a video back of you trying on the clothes they’ve bought. It’s quite cute, actually. So that would be a business expense,” adds Tate. “Those clothes are part of my business and all proceeds head into my business account.” For both Tate and August, deciphering what can be written off as a business expense can make or break their year.

“The expenses system is actually quite accommodating,” continues August. She marks anything as an expense as long as it’s legitimately required for the job. "I’ve definitely included stuff like bondage classes, porn, condoms, sex toys, and sexy outfits." Though August says she stays away from terms like "porn" or "naughty French maid outfit" and use phrases like "educational resources" and "work-related apparel".

Sounds easy enough. However things get tricky when it comes to writing off breast augmentation or Botox. Tate is currently in the process of figuring out if the pricey breast augmentation she needs for her job can be written off as a tax expense. Ultimately, one would need to convince HMRC that the particular expense is not only necessary, but completely irrelevant to your life outside of work.

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise that sex workers don’t have the upper hand when it comes to paying taxes. “We exist in a precarious and confusing industry where misinformation is rife,” says August. “We don’t even have basic protections under law. We have to keep our own records of what we earn, assess our own tax liabilities after the financial year is completed, and send off the money to HMRC.” August says the best way is to update your records every time you have money coming in and keep your books in order so you don’t feel overwhelmed during self-assessment time.

A lot of sex workers fall into the trap of paying their taxes from their current earnings, which can lead to stress during those quieter months in the sex industry. For those starting out in the industry, August suggests nothing but pure savviness.

“Learn the difference between reasonable tax avoidance and tax evasion; one is legal and one is not. Learn what you can expense and create a filing system that works for you, so you can stay organised and prevent the paranoia and anxiety that comes with looking over your shoulder.”

Both August and Tate suggest using the outside help of accountants to ensure a seamless tax season.

“Get yourself a good accountant who knows what expenses can be classified as genuine business expenses,” says Tate. "Also make sure you actually pay your taxes. Put some aside each week so you have something ready to send off to the government. You never want the worry of the tax man chasing you up for unpaid monies due. They will get their money from you one way or another, the tax man always wins.”

The world is well on its way to becoming a full-on gig-powered “adhocracy” where sex workers and non-sex workers alike need to cobble together multiple gigs and tackle taxes in a strategic manner in order to turn a profit. Whether that means writing off part of your apartment as a home office or declaring butt plugs and leather bondage gear as "work-related apparel", there’s always a way to make things easier.

@CandyandPizza