Deductions

ALERT: Using the cents per kilometre method

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The ‘cents per kilometre’ method broadly allows an individual taxpayer to claim up to a maximum of 5,000 business kilometres per car, per year without the need to keep any written evidence (e.g., receipts) of car expenses.

Importantly, taxpayers making a ‘cents per kilometre’ claim are required to demonstrate that they worked out the number of business kilometres they claimed on a reasonable basis

Taxpayers claiming under this method will generally fall into one of two categories, being either those who undertake a regular or irregular pattern of work-related travel.

If a taxpayer has a regular pattern of work-related travel (e.g., a 60 kilometre round trip to the warehouse to pick up supplies twice a week, 40 weeks in the year), then this type of explanation would generally be sufficient to justify the claim.

However, if the taxpayer has an irregular pattern of work-related travel, then they would need to make a note (e.g., in a diary) of each trip. 

Also, remember that, for the 2019 income year, the rate that is applied (up to the 5,000 business kilometre maximum) is 68 cents (up from 66 cents in 2018) per business kilometre travelled.

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ALERT: Motor vehicle registries data matching program protocol

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The ATO will match the data provided by the State and Territory motor vehicle registering authorities against the ATO’s taxpayer records with the objective of identifying those who may not be meeting their registration, reporting, lodgment and payment obligations.

Details will be requested where records indicate a vehicle has been transferred or newly registered during the 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial years where the purchase price or market value is equal to or exceeds $10,000 (approximately 2 million transactional records a year).

This data will allow compliance checks on luxury car tax, FBT and fuel schemes, as well as identifying higher risk taxpayers with outstanding taxation lodgments, and those with undeclared income or concealing the real accumulation of wealth.

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ALERT: "Outrageous" deductions rejected

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The ATO has published some of the most unusual claims that they disallowed last financial year.

Nearly 700,000 taxpayers claimed almost $2 billion of ‘other’ expenses, but the ATO's systematic review of claims had found, and disallowed, some very unusual expenses, including:

-   claims for Lego sets bought as gifts for children, and sporting equipment or membership fees for their child athletes;

-   claims for dental expenses ("believing a nice smile was essential to finding a job");

-   some taxpayers tried to claim the purchase of a brand new car (in excess of $20,000 each!), with one "particularly charitable" taxpayer trying to claim for a car purchased as a gift for their mother;

-   one taxpayer made a claim for "the cost of raising twins", while another claimed for the "cost of raising three children" (and another taxpayer was obviously shocked at the cost of having children, simply stating "New born baby expensive" when making their claim);

-   other taxpayers claimed child support payments, private school fees, school uniforms, before school care and other school expenses, as well as health insurance costs and medical expenses; and

-   one taxpayer decided to claim the cost of their wedding reception.

The ‘other’ deductions section of the tax return is for expenses incurred in earning income that don’t appear elsewhere on the return — such as income protection and sickness insurance premiums.

The ATO is reminding taxpayers that, in order to claim an ‘other’ deduction, the expenses must be directly related to earning income and they need to have a receipt or record of the expense.

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NEWS: ATO "puts the brakes" on dodgy car claims

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The ATO is making work-related car expenses a key focus again during Tax Time 2019.

Assistant Commissioner Karen Foat said over 3.6 million people made a work-related car expense claim in 2017/18, totalling more than $7.2 billion.

“We are still concerned that some taxpayers aren’t getting the message that over-claiming will be detected and if it is deliberate, penalties will apply,” she said.

“While some people do make legitimate mistakes, we are concerned that many people are deliberately making dodgy claims in order to get a bigger refund. We see taxpayers claiming for things like private trips, trips they didn’t make, and car expenses their employer paid for or reimbursed them for.”

One in five car claims are exactly at the maximum limit that doesn’t require receipts.

Under the cents per kilometre method, taxpayers don’t need to keep receipts, but they do need to be able to demonstrate how they worked out the number of kilometres they travelled for work purposes.

The ATO’s sophisticated analytics compares taxpayer claims with others earning similar amounts in similar jobs.

Where the ATO identifies questionable claims, they will contact taxpayers and ask them to show how they have calculated their claim, and in some cases the ATO may even contact employers to confirm whether a taxpayer was required to use their own car for work-related travel.

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ALERT: ATO targeting false laundry claims

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The ATO will target false clothing and laundry work-related expense claims this Tax Time.

In 2018, around six million people claimed work-related clothing and laundry expenses totalling nearly $1.5 billion.

Assistant Commissioner Karen Foat said although many Australians can claim clothing and laundry expenses, it’s unlikely that half of all taxpayers are required to wear uniforms, protective clothing or occupation-specific clothing to earn their income.

“Last year a quarter of all clothing and laundry claims were exactly at the record-keeping limit", Ms Foat said.

"But don’t think that we won’t scrutinise a claim because we don’t require receipts”.

She also said the ATO does not ignore incorrect claims "just because they are small, because small amounts add up".

The ATO is also concerned about the number of people claiming deductions for conventional clothing, such as retail workers claiming normal clothes "because their boss told them to wear a certain colour, or items from the latest fashion clothing line", or others claiming normal clothes because they only wear them to work.

The ATO’s sophisticated data analytics is constantly improving and can identify unusual claims by comparing taxpayer claims to others in similar occupations.

Taxpayers who can’t substantiate their claims should expect to have them refused, and may be penalised for failing to take reasonable care when submitting their tax return.

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‘Cash in hand’ payments to workers no longer tax deductible

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The ATO has reminded employers that any ‘cash in hand’ payments made to workers from 1 July 2019 will not be tax deductible.

‘Cash in hand’ refers to cash payments to employees that do not comply with pay as you go ('PAYG') withholding obligations.

Payments made to contractors where the contractor does not provide an ABN and the business does not withhold any tax will also not be tax deductible from 1 July.

In addition to the loss of a tax deduction, employers caught not complying with their PAYG withholding obligations may be penalised for failing to withhold and report amounts under the PAYG withholding system.

However, employers who mistakenly classify their employee as a contractor will not lose their deduction where their worker provides them with an ABN.

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RULE CHANGE: Non-compliant payments to workers

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The rules for claiming deductions for payments to workers are changing.

From 1 July 2019, businesses can only claim deductions for certain payments made to workers where they've met the Pay As You Go (‘PAYG’) withholding obligation for that payment.

Specifically, a business can only claim a deduction for the following payments if it complies with the relevant PAYG withholding rules:

-    Salary, wages, commissions, bonuses or allowances to an employee.

-    Directors’ fees.

-    Payments to a religious practitioner.

-    Payments made under a labour hire arrangement.

-    Payments made for a supply of services (except from supplies of goods and real property) where the contractor has not provided their ABN.

Where the PAYG withholding rules require an amount to be withheld, the business must:

-    withhold the amount from the payment before they pay their worker; and

-    report that amount to the ATO.

Importantly, a deduction will not be lost if an incorrect amount is withheld (or reported) by mistake.

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Alert: Christmas Gifts and Fringe Benefits Tax

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Editor:  With the holiday season approaching, many employers and businesses want to reward their staff and loyal clients/customers/suppliers.

Again, it is important to understand how gifts to staff and clients, etc., are handled 'tax-wise'.

 Gifts that are not considered to be entertainment

These generally include, for example, a Christmas hamper, a bottle of whisky or wine, gift vouchers, a bottle of perfume, flowers, a pen set, etc.  

Briefly, the general FBT and income tax consequences for these gifts are as follows:

-   gifts to employees and their family members – are liable to FBT (except where the 'less than $300' minor benefit exemption applies) and tax deductible; and

-   gifts to clients, suppliers, etc. – no FBT, and tax deductible.

 Gifts that are considered to be entertainment

These generally include, for example, tickets to attend the theatre, a live play, sporting event, movie or the like, a holiday airline ticket, or an admission ticket to an amusement centre.

Briefly, the general FBT and income tax consequences for these gifts are as follows:

-   gifts to employees and their family members – are liable to FBT (except where the 'less than $300' minor benefit exemption applies) and tax deductible (unless they are exempt from FBT); and

-   gifts to clients, suppliers, etc. – no FBT and not tax deductible.

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ALERT: Increased scrutiny of home office claims

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Last year, 6.7 million taxpayers claimed a record $7.9 billion in deductions for ‘other work-related expenses’, which includes home office expenses.

Reportedly, due to a high number of mistakes, errors and questionable claims for home office expenses, the ATO has recently advised that it will be increasing attention, scrutiny and education on these claims this tax time.

In particular, the ATO has flagged their concerns relating to taxpayers who are claiming:

-   expenses they never paid for;

-   expenses that their employer has reimbursed them for;

-   private expenses; and

-   expenses with no supporting records.

Whilst additional costs incurred as a direct result of working from home can be claimed, care must be taken not to claim private expenses as well.

The ATO has indicated that one of the biggest issues they face is people claiming the entire amount of expenses (e.g., their internet or mobile phone), rather than just the extra portion relating to work.

Provided the taxpayer is able to demonstrate that they have incurred additional costs of running expenses (e.g., electricity for heating, cooling and lighting), then these are generally deductible.

In contrast, employees are generally not able to claim any portion of occupancy-related expenses (e.g., rent, mortgage repayments, property insurance, land taxes and rates).

Taxpayers are warned that the ATO may contact their employers to verify expenses claimed for working from home.

In addition, the ATO expects to disallow a lot of claims where the taxpayer has not kept adequate records to prove that they have legitimately incurred the relevant expense and that the expense was related to their work.

As with the claiming of deductions in general, supporting records must be kept when claiming work-from-home expenses, which may include receipts, diary entries and itemised phone bills. 

Importantly, only the additional work-related portion of the relevant expense is deductible.

Advancement in technology has allowed the ATO to deploy sophisticated systems and analytics to spot claims that do not ‘add up’ and claims that are out of the ordinary compared to others in similar occupations, earning similar income.

Finally, the ATO has reminded taxpayers of the ‘three golden rules’ to follow when claiming work-from-home deductions, being:

-   the taxpayer must have spent the money themselves and have not been reimbursed;

-   it must be directly related to earning the taxpayer’s income, not a personal expense; and

-   the taxpayer must have a record to prove the expense.

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NEWS: Black economy recommendations will impact day-to-day business

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Editor: Recently issued draft legislation has focused on introducing new measures to manage the growing cash economy (i.e., the ‘black economy’) in light of the Black Economy Taskforce recommendations and recent Federal Budget announcements. 

Two of these key recommendations are outlined below.

Removing tax deductions for PAYG failure

The Government is currently considering removing tax deductions where businesses fail to comply with their PAYG withholding obligations for payments to employees and contractors from 1 July 2019.

Specifically, deductions are proposed to be denied for these types of payments where the payer has failed to either:

-   comply with their obligations in relation to withholding from these payments; or

-   notify the ATO of the withholding amount (i.e., via their BAS).

Interestingly, deductions will only be denied if no withholding took place or no notification has been made. 

That is, incorrect amounts withheld or reported to the ATO will not impact a taxpayer’s entitlement to deductions.

Further expansion of the taxable payments reporting system (‘TPRS’)

The TPRS was introduced for the first time in the 2013 income year with respect to businesses in the building and construction industry, requiring the reporting of total payments made to contractors for building and construction services each year.

The taxable payments annual report is due by 28 August each year.

Legislation is currently being considered by Parliament to extend the TPRS to the cleaning and courier industries from the 2019 income year.

Furthermore, draft legislation has now been released to further expand the TPRS to the following industries from the 2020 income year:

-   security providers and investigation services;

-   road freight transport; and

-   computer system design and related services.

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UPDATE: Cents per Km Deduction Rate for Car Expenses from 1 July 2018

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The Commissioner of Taxation has determined that the rate at which work-related car expense deductions may be calculated using the cents per kilometre method is 68 cents per kilometre for the income year commencing 1 July 2018 (up from 66 cents per kilometre).

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NEWS: ATO scrutinising car claims this tax time

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The ATO has announced that it will be closely examining claims for work-related car expenses this tax time as part of a broader focus on work related expenses.

Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson said: 

“We are particularly concerned about taxpayers claiming for things they are not entitled to, like private trips, trips they didn’t make, and car expenses that their employer paid for or reimbursed.”

This is no doubt because over 3.75 million people made a work-related car expense claim in 2016/17 (totalling around $8.8 billion), and, each year, around 870,000 people claim the maximum amount under the cents-per-kilometre method.

Ms Anderson said that the ATO’s ability to identify claims that are unusual has improved due to enhancements in technology and data analytics: “Our models are especially useful in identifying people claiming things like home to work travel or trips not required as part of your job . . . simply travelling from home to work is not enough to qualify, no matter how far you live from your workplace.”

Ms Anderson said there are three golden rules for taxpayers to remember to get it right.

“One – you have to have spent the money yourself and can’t have been reimbursed, two – the claim must be directly related to earning your income, and three – you need a record to prove it.”

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NEWS: Superannuation guarantee amnesty introduced

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The Government has introduced legislation to complement the superannuation guarantee ('SG') integrity package already before Parliament by introducing a one‑off, twelve month amnesty for historical underpayment of SG.

The Bill incentivises employers to come forward and "do the right thing by their employees" by paying any unpaid superannuation in full, as well as the high rate of nominal interest (but without the penalties for late payment that are normally paid to the Government by such employers).

Employers that do not take advantage of the amnesty will face higher penalties when they are subsequently caught – in general, a minimum 50% on top of the SG Charge they owe. 

In addition, throughout the amnesty period the ATO will still continue its usual enforcement activity against employers for those historical obligations they don't own up to voluntarily.

The amnesty will run for twelve months from 24 May 2018.

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NEWS: Employee denied deductions for work-related expenses

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An employee photographer has been denied deductions for travel expenses (when travelling with his family), and other purported work related expenses.

The AAT held that the travel expenses were primarily incurred for the purposes of a family trip or holiday and were therefore non-deductible, as they were private and domestic in nature.

Also, in relation to the taxpayer's reliance on bank statements in the absence of invoices and receipts, the AAT observed that “evidence of the mere transfer of funds, be it by way of bank transfer or by any other means, is not sufficiently informative of the actual character of an expense", so the other disputed expenses could not be claimed as allowable deductions.

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ALERT: Continued ATO focus on holiday home rentals

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The ATO has recently advised that they are “setting their sights on the large number of mistakes, errors and false claims made by rental property owners who use their own property for personal holidays”

While it confirms that the private use of holiday homes by friends and family is entirely legitimate, the ATO states that such use reduces a taxpayer’s ability to earn income from the property, and therefore impacts on (i.e., reduces) the amount of claimable deductions.

As a result, the ATO has reminded holiday home owners that: 

-    They can only claim deductions for a holiday home with respect to periods it is genuinely available for rent.

-    They cannot place unreasonable conditions on prospective tenants/renters, set rental rates above market value, or fail to advertise a holiday home in a manner that targets people who would be interested in it and still claim that the property was genuinely available for rent. 

-    Where a property is rented to friends or relatives at ‘mates rates’, they can only claim deductions for expenses up to the amount of the income received. 

       -   Property owners whose claims are disproportionate to the income received can expect greater scrutiny from the ATO.

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ALERT: ATO's focus on work-related expenses

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This year, the ATO is paying close attention to what people are claiming as 'other' work-related expense deductions, so it's important when taxpayers claim these expenses that they have records to show:

-    they spent the money themselves and were not reimbursed;

-    the expense was directly related to earning their income; and

-    they have a record to prove it.

If the expense is for work and private use, the taxpayer can only claim a deduction for the work-related portion.

Importantly, taxpayers are not automatically entitled to claim standard deductions, but need to be able to show how they worked out their claims.

Editor: ‘Other’ work related expenses are expenses incurred by employees in relation to their work that are not for travel, clothing or self-education, such as home office expenses.

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UPDATE: Numerous work-related expense claims disallowed

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The AAT has denied a taxpayer’s deductions for work-related travel, clothing, self-education and rental property expenses (totalling $116,068 and $140,581 for the 2013 and 2014 income year respectively), and upheld the ATO’s 50% administrative penalty on the tax shortfall for recklessness.

Apart from being unable to prove (or 'substantiate') some claims due to lack of receipts, and documents being in the wrong name, the AAT also criticised the taxpayer for:

claiming work-related travel expenses on the basis of the 'gap' between travel expenses reimbursed by her employer and the ATO’s reasonable rates (which "was clearly not permissible under any taxation law"); and

claiming clothing expenses for "formal clothes of high class”, despite her clothing not being distinctive or unique to her employment at the Department of Finance, and was instead rather conventional in nature (and so was not deductible).

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UPDATE: Can travel in an Uber be exempt from FBT?

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Editor: The ATO has released a discussion paper to facilitate consultation regarding the definition of 'taxi' contained in the FBT Act, and the exemption from FBT for taxi travel undertaken to or from work or due to illness.

Although the provision of travel by an employer to an employee would generally be a benefit upon which FBT would be payable, employers are specifically exempted from having to pay FBT in respect of travel undertaken by their employees in a 'taxi' to or from work or due to illness of the employee.

The ATO has previously advised that this exemption "does not extend to ride-sourcing services provided in a vehicle that is not licensed to operate as a taxi."

However, in light of a recent Federal Court decision regarding Uber, and proposed changes to licensing regulations in a number of states and territories, the ATO is reviewing its interpretation of the definition of 'taxi' in the FBT Act and may adopt an interpretation that accepts that a taxi may include a ride-sourcing vehicle or other vehicle for hire.

Editor: Until this matter is resolved, private travel (including between home and work) undertaken using ride-sourcing vehicles and other vehicles for hire may possibly be exempt from FBT under the minor benefits exemption.

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NEWS: Change to travel expenses for truck drivers

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Editor: The ATO has released its latest taxation determination on reasonable travel expenses, and it includes a big change for employee truck drivers.

For the 2017/18 income year, the reasonable amount for travel expenses (excluding accommodation expenses, which must be substantiated with written evidence) of employee truck drivers who have received a travel allowance and who are required to sleep away from home is $55.30 per day (formerly a total of $97.40 per day for the 2016/17 year).

If an employee truck driver wants to claim more than the reasonable amount, the whole claim must be substantiated with written evidence, not just the amount in excess of the reasonable amount.

Editor: The determination includes an example of a truck driver who receives a travel allowance of $40 per day in 2017/18 ($8,000 over the full year for 100 2-day trips), but who spent $14,000 on meals on these trips.

In terms of claiming deductions for these expenses, he can either claim $14,000 as a travel expense (if he kept all of his receipts for the food and drink he purchased and consumed when travelling), or just rely on the reasonable amount and claim $11,060 ($55.30 x 200 days) as a travel expense (in which case he will need to be able to show (amongst other things) that he typically spent $55 or more a day on food and drink when making a trip (for example, by reference to diary entries, bank records and receipts that he kept for some of the trips)).

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