EXPLAINER

What can I claim on my tax return if I work from home?

Various work-from-home expenses are tax-deductible. Picture: Shutterstock
Various work-from-home expenses are tax-deductible. Picture: Shutterstock

Working from home has changed many parts of day-to-day life since coronavirus restrictions were put in place in March.

Now they're also set to change the way taxpayers will lodge their tax returns this year, due to the number of deductions that people can claim for working remotely.

As tax time approaches, here's what you can and can't get back from the tax office for carrying out your job at home.

What can I claim?

Just for working from home, taxpayers can claim an additional allowance from the ATO.

Due to the high numbers of people working from home, the tax office has introduced a new all-in-one rate that be claimed, rather than trying to calculate different expenses individually.

If you worked from home between March 1 and June 30, you can claim a rate of 80 cents per hour for all working-from-home expenses.

The rate covers expenses such as gas, electricity, cleaning, phone and internet use.

It can also apply to office equipment like stationery, printer toner and it also covers the decline in value of items such as computers and office furniture.

The rate does not apply for earlier parts of the financial year before coronavirus restrictions came into effect.

Tax office assistant commissioner Karen Foat said you don't need to be working in a dedicated home office to be able to claim the special rate, which was previously a requirement of being able to claim working-from-home expenses.

"We recognise that in the current environment, many Australians are working from the kitchen table and the method of 80 cents per hour is available to these people," she said.

Taxpayers can also choose to claim a rate of 52 cents per hour for each hour worked from home for heating, cooling, lighting and cleaning while also claiming the value of things such as stationery and computer consumables separately.

A third option is also available for people working from home, with taxpayers able to calculate each item individually, rather than having to apply for a flat rate of either 80 or 52 cents per hour worked.

If you made a run on office supply stores for furniture like desks and chairs to be able to work from home, it can be claimed as an individual deductible, provided that you don't claim the 80 cents per hour rate.

For workers who are in industries where there is close contact to other people while coronavirus measures were in effect, protective clothing equipment can also be claimed.

Personal protective equipment, such as face masks, can be claimed as a deduction in a tax return. Picture: Karleen Minney

Personal protective equipment, such as face masks, can be claimed as a deduction in a tax return. Picture: Karleen Minney

These can include gloves, face masks, sanitiser or anti-bacterial spray.

The tax office says this includes industries such as healthcare, retail and hospitality.

If the protective items were used both at work and at home, they can only be claimed for a portion of the expense.

What can't I claim?

While our homes became our offices during lockdown measures, you can't claim the rates for all of the hours you were home, with the hourly rate only eligible for the ones you have worked.

You can claim items such as stationery and furniture you used for work purposes at home, but not if it was bought specifically for children to learn from home while schools were shut down.

Other costs relating to children and education, such as setting them up for online learning, desks and iPads, are also not able to be claimed.

Although your regular workplace may provide you with tea and coffee in the kitchen, you can't claim the same items if you worked from home.

We recognise that in the current environment, many Australians are working from the kitchen table and the method of 80 cents per hour is available to these people

Karen Foat

Other general household items that may otherwise be provided at work also can't be claimed.

If you spent part of your time working from home on a lunch break or helping to home school your children, the tax office says it can't go towards the hourly rate of working from home.

Items that also have been reimbursed or directly paid for by your employer, such as phones and laptops, cannot be claimed as part of a deduction.

What if I earned money under JobKeeper?

If you earned the $1500 a fortnight payment from the government, you don't have to do anything differently when you lodge your tax return.

Ms Foat said the payment would be included as salary or wages in an employee's regular income statement, which is provided to the ATO directly each year.

"Information is automatically included into the tax returns by the end of July," Ms Foat said.

"Tax agents also have access to this information. The figures in your income statement should already include any JobKeeper payment."

However, JobKeeper payments won't be included in income statements automatically if you are a sole trader and will have to be added in manually.

Ms Foat said those who intended to lodge their tax return early before information about JobKeeper or JobSeeker payments is made available to the tax office by the end of July need to include the amount themselves.

"Leaving out income can slow down potential refunds or result in a bill later," she said.

When do I have to lodge my tax return?

Tax returns can be lodged from July 1, after the end of a financial year.

You have until October 31 to lodge the return with the tax office. However, if you use a registered tax agent to help fill out all of the details, you can get an extension on the deadline, which can vary.

One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the need for the receipts to back up any sort of deduction should you make a claim.

This story What can I claim on my tax return if I work from home? first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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