Tax

Home offices, work claims and crypto: What’s on the ATO’s hit list this July

Emma Koehn /

From home office expenses to income from sharing economy platforms, the Australian Taxation Office looks to be casting its net wide when it comes to areas of focus during 2018 tax time.

On Monday, ATO Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson told Fairfax the tax office will be looking at a range of problematic areas this year, including cryptocurrency ownership and earnings from platforms like Uber.

She said while taxpayers may feel a degree of anonymity when it comes to things like Bitcoin, the ATO has the power to data match with a range of other sources to track who owns what, as well as who is making cash from platforms like Uber and GoCatch.

The ATO has “sophisticated systems that allow us to match data from banks, financial institutions and online exchanges” to get a clear picture of taxpayers’ situations, she said.

Meanwhile, work-related expenses will be front and centre this July, with the office signposting numerous times over the past year that it will be tracking everything from home office claims to car use and deductions made for work uniforms and clothing.

Since February, the $7.9 billion “other work-related claims” category has been in the ATO’s crosshairs, meaning home office deductions, phone and internet use and work equipment deductions will be scrutinised closely this year.

The ATO reminds taxpayers in its home office expenses guide that in general, workers can’t claim deductions for mortgage repayments, council rates and home insurance.

Those working from home are able to claim a deduction for work furniture, heating and cooling, computers and equipment contained in a home office.

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However, founder of Healthy Business Finances Stacey Price says taxpayers often run into trouble with these claims because they fail to understand in order to make them, these items must be contained within a separate home office.

“We see a lot of people that don’t have a designated home office but they do work from home. They work from the couch, the kitchen table, anywhere they can. But it’s [the deduction claims] are supposed to be for a designated, separate area,” she says. 

That means claiming for furniture or cleaning of areas outside your home office is probably not a legitimate claim, says Price.

Deductions can be made for the percentage of home phone and internet connections used for work, but the ATO reminds taxpayers they must be able to show itemised evidence of these amounts. For example, when claiming a percentage of your phone bill, you must be able to show “itemised phone accounts from which you can identify work-related calls, or other records”.

In February, Anderson drew attention to the prevalence of taxpayers claiming the entire amount of an expense even though services like mobile phone connections were only used for work purposes for a small percentage of the time.

“We are seeing quite a few examples of people trying to claim the whole expense, including the private portion. Like some who incorrectly claim their entire phone and internet bundle, and others who claim an overseas study trip even though they had a holiday as part of the trip,” she said.

The issues of work-related expenses, cryptocurrency holdings and gig economy income have all been discussed against a backdrop of improved data-matching approaches from the tax office.

ATO commissioner Chris Jordan has warned Australians a number of times over the past year that the tax office looks at more than just a tax return in order to evaluate claims. In November last year, he said the ATO would focus on the unexplained wealth of small business owners, building on previous comments from the office that it was using social media to monitor displays of wealth.

NOW READ: Ombudsman will conduct inquiry into unfair ATO treatment, urges SMEs to share stories

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior journalist at SmartCompany.

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