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9 things you can and can’t claim tax on this year

  • June 03 2020
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Earn

9 things you can and can’t claim tax on this year

By Cameron Micallef
June 03 2020

With tax time being a little different this year due to employers working from home, a financial adviser has highlighted the importance of getting tax-ready early.

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9 things you can and can’t claim tax on this year

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  • June 03 2020
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With tax time being a little different this year due to employers working from home, a financial adviser has highlighted the importance of getting tax-ready early.

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The Australian Taxation Office has outlined that employees can claim their at-home work expenses in one of three ways. 

Firstly, the new shortcut method allows workers to claim 80 cents per hour for phone, internet, home energy and decline in value of equipment and furniture. 

Secondly, Australian employees will not need to have a dedicated working space to claim this; however, the ATO has only granted this concession for the period from 1 March 2020 through to 30 June 2020.

Alternatively, the fixed-rate method enables individuals to claim 52 cents per hour on work-related running costs, such as air conditioning, lighting, cleaning and the wear of office furniture, plus calculating specific costs for phone, internet, stationery and decline in value of equipment. 

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The final option is the actual cost method, which enables workers to claim the work-related portion of all work-related expenses, which must be recorded and calculated by them.

Licensed financial adviser Helen Baker said: “As the pandemic and consequent shutdowns shocked the private sector, most businesses found themselves scrambling to transition employees to home-based work while maintaining productivity.”

She highlighted the needs for businesses which may or may not have set up processes to reimburse staff who are now working from home.

“However, employees may have a right to have certain expenses reimbursed by their employer if those expenses were required to carry out their job, and had to be purchased by the employee to work from home,” she said.

“For employees, expense reimbursement is always a better option than a tax deduction, as the employer is likely to pay the full cost of a particular expense, that is, you get 100 per cent back. 

“A tax deduction, on the other hand, doesn’t mean the employee will get the full expense back. For instance, if you are in the 32.5 per cent tax rate bracket, you will still be paying 67.5 per cent for the cost of the item.”

Ms Baker explained what workers can and can’t claim on nine common expenses.

1. Phone calls

If your role is client-facing and requires lots of phone use to enable you to do your job, it may be reasonable for you to request that your employer covers this expense. 

This could be by way of a flat “disbursement” fee of, say, $50–$100 a month, which is easy for both you and your employer. Or your employer might ask you to provide itemised costs, whereby you will need to show your employer your bills each month with work separated from personal costs. 

2. Internet and mobile data

You could ask your employer to reimburse you for these costs if you can show that you had to go on a higher-cost plan to enable you to work from home effectively. 

3. Hardware such as laptop, cables and mouse, and stationery 

If you were required to purchase essential hardware to carry out your job at home — and those items will not be for personal long-term use — ask your employer if they will reimburse you for the expense. 

4. Software subscriptions

If you had to purchase software for a work-owned computer or laptop, ask your employer to reimburse you. Similarly, if the software was installed on a home computer for the sole purpose of work, you could request reimbursement. 

However, if you already had the program installed on your home computer and the licence expired, you may only be able to claim a portion of the expense as a tax deduction, as you are likely to continue using the software for personal use.

5. Furniture

Many employees were unlikely to have had a home-office set-up when they were asked to work from home. If this was you, you might have had to purchase a desk and chair. 

Your employer may not reimburse you for these as it is likely you will continue using the furniture at home when you re-enter the workplace, so your alternative is to claim as a tax deduction. If you are claiming under the shortcut method, this expense falls under the 80 cents per hour calculation. 

6. Coffee, tea and late-night meals

Your employer provided coffee, tea and milk in the office, and might have covered your takeaway dinners if you had to work late, out of goodwill. While you are working from home, however, your employer is very unlikely to cover this expense, nor can you claim these general household items as a tax deduction. 

7. Electricity

Heating, cooling and lighting is covered under the shortcut method and fixed-rate method for tax deductions.

Your employer is unlikely to agree to a reimbursement, as it is difficult to determine what proportion of your bills was incurred for work use, particularly if there are multiple people in your household.

8. Travel and parking costs to source home-office items

Your employer may not cover these costs. Travel to and from the office is not tax-deductible, so seek advice from an accountant regarding your home being the “new office”.  

If you had to regularly get the mail for your employer, or pick up work parcels, these costs may be tax-deductible for the public transport ticket and the kilometres travelled by car, depending on the journey.

9. At-home alcohol and snacks for your Zoom team socials

Your employer might have purchased wine and snacks for office socials, but this was out of goodwill, as alcohol is not a tax-deductible purchase. 

As these items are more of a luxury, rather than a necessity for doing your job, your employer may reimburse you for these items, but the ATO won’t allow you to make a tax deduction for them.

9 things you can and can’t claim tax on this year
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About the author

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Cameron is a journalist for Momentum Media's nestegg and Smart Property Investment. He enjoys giving Aussies practical financial tips and tricks to help grow their wealth and achieve financial independence. As a self-confessed finance nerd, Cameron enjoys chatting with industry experts and commentators to leverage their insights to grow your portfolio.

About the author

Cameron is a journalist for Momentum Media's nestegg and Smart Property Investment. He enjoys giving Aussies practical financial tips and tricks to help grow their wealth and achieve financial independence. As a self-confessed finance nerd, Cameron enjoys chatting with industry experts and commentators to leverage their insights to grow your portfolio.

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