Claiming work-related expenses

Tax time targets

To claim a deduction, you need to have incurred the expense yourself and not been reimbursed by your employer or business, and the expense needs to be directly related to your work.


What expenses are related to work?

You can claim a deduction for all losses and outgoings “to the extent to which they are incurred in gaining or producing assessable income except where the outgoings are of a capital, private or domestic nature, or relate to the earning of exempt income.” That is, there must be a nexus between the expenses you are claiming and how you earn your income.


It all sounds simple enough until you start applying this rule.

Take the example of an actor. To land the acting job she needs to attend auditions. She wants to claim the cost of having her hair and make-up done for the audition. But, because she is not generating income at the stage of the audition, she cannot claim her expenses. The expense must be related to how you are currently earning your income, not future potential income.


The same issue applies to upskilling. If you attend investment seminars with the intention of building your investment portfolio the seminar is not deductible as a self-education expense unless it relates to managing your existing investment portfolio — not a future one. Or, a nurse’s aide who attends university to qualify as a nurse. The university degree and the expenses associated with this are not deductible as the nursing degree is not required to fulfil the role of a nurse’s aide.


The second area of confusion is over what can be claimed for work. If the item is “conventional” it’s unlikely to be deductible. For example, you can't claim conventional clothing (including footwear) as a work-related expense, even if your employer requires you to wear it and you only wear the items of clothing at work. To be deductible clothing must be protective, occupation-specific such as a chef’s chequered pants, a compulsory uniform or a registered non-compulsory uniform.


Work-related or private?

Another area of confusion is where expenses are incurred for work purposes but used privately. Internet access or mobile phone services are typical. A lot of people take the view that the expense had to be incurred for work so what does it matter if it’s used for private purposes? But, if you use the service on more than an ad-hoc basis for any purpose other than work, then the expense needs to be apportioned and only the work-related percentage claimed as a deduction. And yes, the ATO does check usage in an audit.


Claims for COVID-19 tests will be a test of this rule. COVID-19 tests are deductible from 1 July 2021 if the purpose was to determine whether you may attend or remain at work. The tax deduction does not apply if you worked from home and didn’t intend to attend your workplace, or the test was used for private purposes (for example, to tests the kids before school).


Claiming work from home expenses

Last financial year, one in three Australians claimed working from home expenses. Now we’re out of the pandemic, the ATO will be focussing specifically on what is being claimed. If you claimed work from home expenses last year and returned to the office this year, then there should be a reduction in your work from home claim. The ATO will be looking for discrepancies.


If you are claiming your expenses, there are three methods you can use:

  1. The ATO’s simplified 80 cents per hour short-cut method – you can claim 80 cents for every hour you worked from home from 1 March 2020 to 30 June 2022. You will need to have evidence of hours worked like a timesheet or diary. The rate covers all of your expenses and you cannot claim individual items separately, such as office furniture or a computer.

  2. Fixed rate 52 cents per hour method – applies if you have set up a home office but are not running a business from home. You can claim 52 cents for every hour and this covers the running expenses of your home. You can claim your phone, internet, or the decline in value of equipment separately.

  3. Actual expenses method – you can claim the actual expenses you incur (and reduce the claim by any personal use and use by other family members). You will need to ensure you have kept records such as receipts to use this method.

It’s this last method, the actual method, the ATO is scrutinising because people using this method tend to lodge much higher claims in their tax return. Ineligible expenses include:

  • Personal expenses such as coffee, tea and toilet paper

  • Expenses related to a child’s education, such as online learning courses or laptops

  • Claiming large expenses up-front (instead of claiming depreciation for assets), and

  • Occupancy expenses such as rent, mortgage interest, property insurance, and land taxes and rates, cannot generally be claimed by employees working from home (especially by those who are working from home solely due to a lockdown).

The ATO has flagged four priority areas this tax season where people are making mistakes.


With tax season upon us the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has revealed its four areas of focus this tax season.

  1. Record-keeping

  2. Work-related expenses

  3. Rental property income and deductions, and

  4. Capital gains from crypto assets, property, and shares.

In general, there are three ‘golden rules’ when claiming tax deductions:

  1. You must have spent the money and not been reimbursed.

  2. If the expense is for a mix of work-related (income producing) and private use, you can only claim the portion that relates to how you earn your income.

  3. You need to have a record to prove it.

How to contact us

We’re available to assist you with tax planning including tax deductions. Contact Collins Hume Accountants & Business Advisers in Ballina or Byron Bay on 02 6686 3000. Read more tax planning topics here »

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