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Are Writing Competition Prizes Taxable?

NOTE: Most of the information on this page pertains to tax advice in the UK because that's where I live and pay tax. There is some additional information towards the bottom of the post from an author regarding his experiences in Australia.

Prize money and winnings from writing competitions CAN be a taxable source of income.

Do you have to pay tax on writing competition winnings?

It depends on your personal circumstances. Some writers will have to pay tax. Others will not. You can learn more on HMRC's Authors and literary profits: awards and bursaries page.

Originally, this post stated: Yes, writing competition prizes are taxable. I had been told this during correspondence with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.

I was contacted early in 2017 by one of my website users who had been given contrary information by HM Revenue & Customs. So I wrote to them again asking for clarification. You can see the full correspondence below.

The first part of the post (under the title 'How do I know?') was written prior to updating the page. Below that you will see my recent letters to and from HMRC.

How do I know?

Well, I assumed (wrongly) that any money received as a prize is not subject to tax. Lottery winnings are tax free, so why would a writing competition be any different? Still, I was unsure and I’m the kind of person who likes to know stuff rather than guess at it. So, after winning my first writing competition, I wrote a letter of enquiry to HM Revenue & Customs. They sent me the following reply:

HM Revenue & Customs Logo

“The prize money received is treated as a professional receipt as you entered the competitions of your own accord so should be included on your self employed schedule for this source of income. As the prize is taxable then the competition entry fees will be an allowable expense against such income.”

GBP Great British Pound Sign

Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but this means that writers should declare any earnings generated by their writing when filling out their annual tax return in the UK, including prize money from writing competitions they enter.

I know everyone is supposed to instinctively dislike the taxman, but I have found HMRC, especially the staff at my local tax office, very approachable and helpful with any enquiries I've made regarding my self employment over the years. To find out more, visit the HMRC website.

This information pertains to the UK tax office. I do not know if the same rules and laws apply in other countries around the world.

Tax Update UK, January 2017

I have written to HM Revenue & Customs requesting clarification on this matter after receiving a message from one of my website users. She has received contrary information about declaring prize money from HMRC.

The letter I've written can be seen below. Below that you will see the response from HMRC, received in February 2017.

Letter To HMRC Regarding Prize Money

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to enquire if winnings from writing competitions are taxable.

I run a popular writing blog and my website users often query if they should pay tax on winnings from writing competitions that they have entered.

A few years ago, I wrote to you asking this question and received this response:

“The prize money received is treated as a professional receipt as you entered the competitions of your own accord so should be included on your self employed schedule for this source of income. As the prize is taxable then the competition entry fees will be an allowable expense against such income.”

Since then, I have always declared prize winnings as income.

I published a blog post about my experiences on my website as I thought it would help my users. You can see it here:


At the end of 2016, one of my website users wrote to me saying she had received contradictory advice from HMRC. When she asked about it, she was told winnings were not taxable. Her message to me read:

“…I have a letter from HMRC which states 'competition winnings are not taxable' - which contradicts the statement you received!”

Another website user emailed me today (12th Jan 2017) suggesting that if a competition is free to enter, any prize money won might not be taxable, but if you pay to enter a competition it could be.

I am writing to you for clarification. Please can you let me know if winnings from writing competitions are taxable? And does it make any difference if an entry fee has been paid when entering a competition? Thank you in advance for your help in this matter.

Kind regards,

Chris Fielden

Reply from HMRC

Dear Mr Fielden

Thank you for your letter of 12 January 2017.

I can confirm that whether a competition is free to enter or not doesn't have any relevance on whether any winnings/prize money is taxable. However, whether a writer entered the competition or a third party entered them without their consent is relevant.

Please note that there are written instructions covering literary prizes and these can be found at https://www.gov.uk/hmrc-internal-manuals/business-income-manual/bim50710.

As you will note from these instructions there is no easy answer to determining whether a prize is taxable or not and often it will be an individual's own professional situation which is important, i.e. are they a professional, including part-time, writer.

However, it is important to remember that each instance would be determined on its own individual circumstances.

Yours sincerely,

Customer Adviser

Some Notes

Paying Tax on Competition Winnings in Australia

In 2021, Australian author Jim Ditchfield kindly supplied the following information about the advice he received from the tax office in Australia:

G'Day Chris, I'm an Australian writer. My advice from the Aussie tax man is, as I understand it, very simple: If you claim expenses from writing such as computer, printer, ink, paper, entry fees etc, then you have to pay taxes on any winnings as they are deemed part of your income. Seems fair to me.

Like you I've found the Tax man (or woman) very friendly.

This information was added to the post in March 2021. I'd like to thank Jim for sharing his experiences with me (and you, the reader).


My circumstances mean I'm classed as a professional writer, so I have to declare any competition winnings as a source of taxable income. If you write as a hobby and not a profession, you may not have to pay tax.

To be sure, please check the HMRC website and see if your circumstances mean you have to pay tax.

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Your comments:

Frank H
Very interesting. Perhaps a visit to the Schmidt Report site will reveal other answers? The site has certainly saved me loads over the years.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Frank, that's a really useful website :-)

Marion G
Please could you tell me if this applies to me? I live in France and pay my taxes here. Many thanks.

Chris Fielden
Marion, I'm unsure of the laws in France, so you would have to check. I wrote to the tax office in the UK when writing this post, and they were very helpful. Maybe you could try the same in France? If you do, please let me know what you find out :-)

Christian C
Thank you for this. This has saved me a phone call being stuck on hold with HMRC.

This has got me wondering. Do the entry fees being tax deductible only apply to successful competition wins or are all competition fees deductible?

Chris Fielden
Christian, all competition fees are tax deductible, regardless of whether you win or not :-)

Beth T
So, you are saying that if I am a Canadian, I can still submit my novel into these competitions, right?

Chris Fielden
Beth, mostly, yes! You will have to check the rules of each competition you enter, but the majority accept entries from anywhere in the world :)

Cepheus Q
Hi, I'm from the Philippines. I would like to know if you have a list of writing competitions that accepts international writers sans joining fee.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Chris Fielden
Hi Ces. Most of the competitions on these lists accept entries from writers living anywhere in the world. Quite a few are free to enter. I suggest you start your research there.

Good luck with your writing :-)

Linda G
This is such a helpful resource, thanks. Just would like to check my understanding of your previous comment "all competition fees are tax deductible, regardless of whether you win or not :-)". So, if I win less than I paid out over the tax year in entry fees (quite likely!) I won't owe tax on my winnings?

Chris Fielden
Hi Linda. I'm no tax advisor, but in answer to your question, yes, you are correct (to the best of my knowledge). If the money you have spent in entry fees exceeds what you've won in prize money, you might even be able to claim some tax back. The best bet is to get in touch with the tax office and clarify with them - I've found them to be really helpful. I'm set up with self-assessment, so sort it all out through that every year. You can find out more about self-assessment here.

Linda G
Thanks so much! I will double-check as you suggest.

Pam H
Re comp. winnings - looks like it's back to square one, as I have a letter from HMRC which states 'competition winnings are not taxable ' - which contradicts the statement you received!

Chris Fielden
Hi Pam. Thanks for letting me know. Well, that contradicts what I've been told. Apparently, if you've paid an entry fee then the winnings are taxable. That was what I was told.

I'll write to the tax office and see if I can get any more information.

Liz S
"If you've paid an entry fee, your winnings are taxable"

I wonder then, if there is no entry fee, it means the winnings are non-taxable?

Chris Fielden
Hi Liz. Good question... I've written to HMRC today to ask for clarification. Pam (see the comment above yours on my site) received contrary advice, so I have asked them about that too. Let's see what they say.

Ajieh P
I am a Cameroonian, interested in creative writing. How can I encourage this talent in me without any tuition fee?

Chris Fielden
Hi Ajieh. Try looking at my free writing critiques page.

That lists lots of free writing communities. If you sign up, you have to become an active member, and help others, to gain benefit from it.

I hope that's helpful :-)

Nicholas B
Surely there was a legal case back in the 1980s or so when an author - I think his name surname was Boyle - won a literary prize and was taxed by the Inland Revenue? He challenged the IR in court and established the principle that, no, prize winnings were not taxable.

Chris Fielden
Hi Nicholas. Thanks for this - very interesting. I'm not aware of the case you mentioned, but if it was back in the 80s, things could well have changed since then.

According to HMRC, if you write as a hobby, then prize winnings are not taxable. However, if you write for a living, then prize winnings are taxable as part of your earnings, although you can claim expenses against it (entry fees etc.).

Nicholas B
There was definitely a case. I once met the author who won it.

Really annoying, if the situation has changed. I write for money and have been on the list for both the Bridport and the Sunday Times £30,000 award. Oh well.

Chris Fielden
Hi Nick. If you remember the author’s name, please let me know and I’ll look into it.

Good luck with the Bridport and Sunday Times – great you got listed in both. If you win, I’d be interested to hear what HMRC say about it!

Nicholas B
I've been listed for both in the past, not the present... although I'm trying again this year.

I think it was Andrew Boyle. He certainly won literary prizes. I can't find anything about the tax case online. My memory is faulty, but I seem to remember that the Society of Authors backed him with cash to fight the Inland Revenue through the courts. It was considered a great victory for authors at the time.

Chris Fielden
Ah, I see. Well good luck with this year’s contests.

And thanks for the extra information. I’ve done a search on Google and can’t find anything about it, but it’s interesting to know anyway.

Claire F
Hi Chris, if the prize was taxable and the fee for that competition deductible as part of your costs for your self employed business, I wonder if that would also imply the following:

Any competition fee would be deductible as a cost whether you win or not, since you have to enter many competitions in order to be able to win and get known.

Any costs associated with your writing would be deductible, including your computer, software, room used as an office, Internet for research and submission, club fees, convention fees, website costs, marketing costs, labour costs (including your own for doing the writing).

I think it should. HMRC can't have it both ways. Either you're self employed as a writer with all related costs deductible, or you're not.

Am I right?

Thanks for your amazing website by the way. I'm just getting started and your site is so helpful :-)

Chris Fielden

Hi Claire, thanks for your message.

You are correct, you can claim all sorts of costs against running your business as a writer. I think the way HMRC have it set up is fair. Most specifically, yes, all entry/submission fees can be claimed as a cost, win or not.

There's lots of information about claiming business expenses on the HMRC website. This is a good page to look at to get started.

Glad to hear you're finding the website helpful, thank you - I wish you the best of luck with all your writing endeavours :-)

Jim D
G'Day Chris, I'm an Australian writer. My advice from the Aussie tax man is, as I understand it, very simple: If you claim expenses from writing such as computer, printer, ink, paper, entry fees etc, then you have to pay taxes on any winnings as they are deemed part of your income. Seems fair to me.

Like you I've found the Tax man (or woman) very friendly.

Chris Fielden
Thanks for sharing that information, Jim - very much appreciated.

I'd like to add your comments to the main post and credit them to you.

Would that be OK with you?

Jim D
G'Day Chris, happy for you to put my comments on your site. Thanks, Jim.

Chris Fielden
Fantastic, thanks Jim :-)

Julie G
Thanks, Chris, this is very helpful. Do you know what the rules are for non-monetary prizes? For example, if you enter a writing contest where the prize is a stay at a luxury hotel, or free attendance to a writing conference. Does it make a difference whether the prize is advertised as
having no cash alternative (i.e. you can't opt to take the money instead)?

Chris Fielden
Hi Julie, thanks for your message.

That's a good question... I have read around this subject matter before and as per the post above, it will depend on your personal situation. From what I can see, the same rules apply - if you are classed as a professional writer, you should pay tax on the prize. The UK government website says: "Sometimes a cash alternative to the award is offered. In this case the taxable receipt is the greater of:

  • the cash alternative, or
  • the market value of the gift.

You can read more the subject on the UK government website on their page titled Prizes may be taxable in the hands of the recipient and Authors and literary profits: awards and bursaries.

Please bear in mind that I am not an accountant, so you should consult a professional before submitting a tax return. But I hope this info helps :)