Tax time: Are you in the ATO’s sights?

4-ato update

A consistent theme this tax time is overclaiming and under reporting. With the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) getting more and more sophisticated in its data matching approaches, taxpayers can expect greater scrutiny where their claims are more than what is expected. We take a look at the key issues starting with YOU.

 

Work related deductions

Last financial year, over 8.8 million taxpayers claimed $21.98 billion in deductions for work related expenses. It’s an area under intense review by the ATO. If you claim work-related deductions, it’s important to ensure that you are able to substantiate any claim you make. 

To claim a deduction, you need to have incurred the expense yourself and not been reimbursed by your employer or business, in most cases you need a record proving you incurred the expense, and the expense has to be directly related to how you earn your income – that is, the expense is directly (not sort of) related to your work. This also means ensuring that you only claim the work-related portion of items you use personally, such as mobile phones or internet services.

 

When you don’t have to keep records

If your claim for work related deductions is below $300 you do not have to keep a record of the expense, such as a receipt. Work related clothing has a $150 record keeping limit. However, the ATO is concerned that taxpayers are ‘automatically’ claiming these deductions without incurring any expenses because of a belief that you don’t have to support the claim. If you have claimed an amount up to the record keeping threshold, you may find that the ATO will ask you to explain how you came to that amount. If you don’t have diary entries or a good explanation, your claim might be denied.

 

Working from home

If you don’t have a dedicated work area but you do some work on the couch or at the dining room table, you can claim some of your expenses like the work-related portion of your phone and internet expenses and the decline in value of your computer. If you have a dedicated work area, there are a few more expenses you can claim including some of the running costs of your home such as a portion of your electricity expenses and the decline in value of office equipment.

If your home is your principal place of business, you might be able to claim a range of expenses related to the portion of your home set aside for your business. What the ATO is looking for is an identifiable area of the home used for business.

Ensure any claims are in proportion to the work related use. You can’t, for example, claim all of your internet expenses because you do a bit of work from home in the evenings and need the internet.

 

Work related clothing

In general, you cannot claim the cost of your work clothes or dry cleaning expenses unless the clothes are occupation specific, such as chefs whites or a uniform with a logo, or protective gear because your workplace has hazards (jeans don’t count as protective wear).

Just because you have to wear a suit to work does not make it deductible.

 

Rental property deductions

In the 2017-18 financial year, more than 2.2 million Australians claimed over $47 billon in deductions and the ATO believes that is too much - one in ten is estimated to contain errors.

What you can claim for your rental property has been significantly curbed. For example, you can no longer claim deductions for the cost of travelling to inspect the property. And, you can no longer claim depreciation deductions for second hand plant and equipment. Previously, you could for example, buy a rental property from someone else and then claim depreciation on the assets already in the property such as the kitchen appliances and carpet. From 1 July 2017, you can only claim deductions for new assets you purchase and install in the property.

4,500 audits of rental property deductions will be undertaken this year with the focus on over-claimed interest, capital works claimed as repairs, incorrect apportionment of expenses for holiday homes let out to others, and omitted income from accommodation sharing. Deliberate cases of over-claiming are treated harshly with penalties of up to 75% of the claim. 

 

When you own a share in a property

For tax purposes, rental income and expenses need to be recognised in line with the legal ownership of the property, except in very limited circumstances where it can be shown that the equitable interest in the property is different from the legal title. The ATO will assume that where the taxpayers are related, the equitable right is the same as the legal title (unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise such as a deed of trust etc.,).

This means that if you hold a 25% legal interest in a property then you should recognise 25% of the rental income and rental expenses in your tax returns even if you pay most or all of the rental property expenses (the ATO would treat this as a private arrangement between the owners).

The main exception is that if the parties have separately borrowed money to acquire their interest in the property then they would claim their own interest deductions.

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