Home office expenses: what can you claim in your tax return.

The way we work is changing - for employers and employees. Workplaces and employee roles are more flexible and it has become more common for people to spend at least a small portion of their time working from home. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, where many employees find themselves working from home - either by choice or at the direction of their employer.  For this reason you may be entitled to claim tax deductions for home office running expenses or home office occupancy expenses in your tax return.

UPDATE: The ATO has announced a temporary simplified short cut method to make it easier for you to claim deductions for additional running expenses incurred as a result of working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic. You can read the update about that here. It’s important to understand that there’s a difference between the two claim types, as well as very precise circumstances under which each may be claimed. Generally speaking, employees will use the home office running method to calculate a tax deduction in their tax return. It’s less common that an employee will claim a tax deduction for home office occupancy expenses.

Remember, the ATO is always keeping a close eye on the deductions which taxpayers are claiming for working from home, so please take the time to understand what you can claim and what you cannot. Also take note of the records and receipts you must keep in order to claim home office expenses in your tax return.

Home office running expenses versus home office occupancy expenses. What’s the difference?

Home office running expenses include expenses such as:

  • Electricity
  • Gas
  • Home office furniture and equipment (costing up to $300)
  • Depreciation on home office furniture and equipment (for items costing more than $300)
  • Cost of repairs to your home office furniture and fittings
  • Cleaning expenses
  • Work-related phone calls (including mobiles) and phone rental (a portion reflecting the share of work-related use of the line) if you have to phone your employer or clients regularly while you are away from your workplace

Home office occupancy expenses include those that are directly associated with your home:

  • Rent
  • Mortgage interest
  • Council rates
  • House insurance premiums

The ability to claim these expenses depends on whether your home is your place of work/business or simply a place of convenience to undertake work, with a room set aside exclusively for work activities.

Who can claim home office running expenses?

Home office expenses are deductible even if a taxpayer chooses to use their home office for work purposes for their convenience, as long as the area is used exclusively for work purposes.

The following table outlines the deductions you claim for the three possible ways you work may work from home:

Who can claim home office occupancy expenses?

Home office occupancy expenses are most commonly claimed when part of your home has the character of a place of business. If you are self-employed your home will likely be considered a place of business.

  • The following factors indicate that an area set aside at home has the character of a place of business:
  • The area is clearly identifiable as a place of business
  • The area is not readily suitable or adaptable for private or domestic purposes in association with the home
  • The area is used exclusively or almost exclusively for carrying on a business
  • The area is regularly used for visits from customers or clients (if applicable)

As an employee, generally you can’t claim a deduction for occupancy expenses. However, if you are an employee and your employer has not provided you an office or location to perform your work, then home will indeed be your place of work (sole base of operations). In that situation you may be able to claim home occupancy expenses as well as home running expenses. You will need to be able to demonstrate that the room set aside for work was used exclusively or almost exclusively for income-earning purposes.

How do I claim home office deductions?

Based on Taxation Ruling TR 93/30 you can choose one of the four apportionment methods detailed below. The method you choose is entirely up to you; but we recommend that you select the most reasonable method for your particular circumstances.

Method 1. The 52c per hour method  (Please see ATO's 'short cut' method in light of COVID-19 here)

This is by far the simplest method. It is designed to cover heating, cooling, lighting and depreciation of office furniture. It doesn’t include the depreciation of other office equipment such as computers and computers - these will be included in your tax return separately. The 52 cents per hour method It is based on an actual or established pattern of use.

Method 2. Cost per unit of power used

The ‘cost per unit’ method is a great method for working out the additional utility costs that you have incurred due to working from home. With the correct documentation in place, it would be difficult for the ATO to argue this method in a tax audit situation.

Cost per unit of power  x  Average units used per hour  x   Total hours use for work purposes

Method 3. Comparing utility accounts

This method is also good for working out the additional utility costs that you incur as a result of working from home - as an employee or business. Simply compare utility accounts from before and after the home-based work activities commenced.

Method 4. Floor area

This method can be appropriate in certain circumstances, but generally only where the relevant area of the home is set aside exclusively for work or business purposes. We don’t recommend this method for employees who choose to work at home for convenience.

What records must I keep?

In an audit situation, the ATO are very particular over home office expense substantiation. You must keep detailed records of home expenses, such as:

  • Receipts or other written evidence of your expenses, including receipts for depreciating assets you have purchased
  • Diary entries you make to record your small expenses ($10 or less) totalling no more than $200, or expenses you cannot get any kind of evidence for, regardless of the amount
  • Itemised phone accounts from which you can identify work-related calls, or other records, such as diary entries (if you do not get an itemised account from your telephone company)
  • A diary you have created to work out how much you used your equipment, home office and phone for business purposes over a representative four-week period.

You may be interested to know that the ATO provides a Home Office Expense Calculator on their website which you can use to support your home office expense claim in your personal tax return. We strongly recommend that you use this and have a go at calculating your home office expenses before preparing your tax return or meeting with your Melton tax agent at Platinum Accounting & Taxation.

Determining the tax deductibility of home office expenses can be quite involved when considered in the context of your specific occupation and employment contract details. If you want to know further about your entitlements on claiming home office deductions, please contact our Melton tax accountants on (03) 9746 6479 or submit an online enquiry form today.