Working from home can work for you

As the old adage goes, change is as good as a holiday. But the way that the novel coronavirus has shaken up the world we live in, has, to the contrary, been extremely disruptive and stress-inducing. For many people, the disruption has come in the form of shifting from the traditional office space to working from home.

People who had been working flexi-hours or may have been self-employed and working from a home office might be very familiar with claiming business-related expenses from their personal income tax as a tax-deductible expense. For the everyday worker, though, the shift to working from home may incur costs that would not have been necessary had they been able to safely work from their traditional office. If the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that you need to work from home, you may be able to claim some of your business expenses back when submitting your next tax return.

What then are the prerequisites for filing a tax return that includes your home office expenses as a tax-deductible expense?

  • You need to have an agreement with your employer that allows you to work from home. Especially since working from home has been necessitated during the pandemic, some of these agreements may have been assumed without due communication. To cover your bases, have the agreement made in writing.
  • You need to spend at least 50% of your working hours working from your home office. Since the tax year runs from the start of March through to the end of February the following year, it means that 50% of your time spent working in the tax year must be from your home office. Generally speaking, the necessitated use of the home for work purposes during the COVID-19 pandemic makes this somewhat tricky because it would require you to work 6 months of the tax year in the home office if you were to make a full return to your business office’s premises later (based on maintaining the same hours). For instance, working 3 months from home and 9 from the office will disqualify you from claiming your home-office as a tax-deductible expense, as you would only have spent about 25% of your working hours from your home office.
  • Home office expenses are only tax-deductible if you have an area set aside exclusively for work purposes. Hammering away at your keyboard from your living room sofa, unfortunately, does not qualify you for a home office tax deduction. Makeshift offices or rooms that have a purpose apart from dedicated work do not qualify.
  • Additionally, your home office specifically has to be fitted out for the purpose of your work. If there are specific tools or equipment that your work requires, your home office has to be set up with these readily available.

What can you deduct as a business expense?

For anyone who earns more than 50% of their income from a traditional salary, pro-rated tax deductions can be made as it relates to interest on your home loan or rent, as well as the repair and maintenance of your home. That is to say that the tax-deduction is directly related to the portion of your property that is dedicated as a home office and is calculated as a percentage of the whole.

For anyone who earns more than 50% of their income from commission (or income other than that which is earned from a salary) can claim for the same expenses as mentioned above, but can also claim business-related expenses from commission-based activity.

What if you don’t qualify for a tax return on business expenses?

For those who do not qualify for a tax deduction on their home office space, it shouldn’t necessarily mean that you need to take on all of the burdens of your business-related expenses yourself. Where previously you could rely on company internet, for instance, now you would need to use more data per month and incur an additional cost.

The best solution in this regard would be to see if an agreement can be made with your employer to carry some of the costs by reimbursing you for the personal loss suffered. If done amicably, it could only serve to strengthen the relationship with your employer.
While the change brought about from the COVID-19 virus may not be as good as a holiday, it may well be able to pay for one once you are recompensed for your tax-deductible expenses.

Reference list

  • https://www.thesait.org.za/news/460951/Deducting-your-home-office-expenditure.htm
  • https://www.businessinsider.co.za/how-to-claim-the-cost-of-setting-up-a-home-office-against-tax-in-south-africa-2020-5
  • https://www.news24.com/fin24/money/tax/lesser-known-tax-incentives-20180524

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Surviving the disaster of job loss

As COVID-19 has ravaged the economy and stripped it bare of tens of thousands of jobs, there is a real threat to the livelihoods of many ordinary working South Africans. As happens during a time of economic recession, some businesses are unable to pay full salaries, have to scale down and have to let workers go in order to survive the results of stunted economic activity in their industry.

Job loss is never easy. When found in such a precarious position, one difficulty is knowing where one might find the resources to stay afloat and get ready to re-enter the job market. In any case, it is advisable to speak to a registered financial advisor regarding your best course of action as your circumstances require.

Below is an incomplete catalogue of the financial sources that you might be able to utilise during this time:

The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) is specifically set up to aid in these kinds of situations, subject to a few conditions being met. If you had been formally employed, you will probably be a regular contributor to the fund (All employers are required by Labor Law to register themselves and their staff with the UIF and pay their monthly contributions). Apart from the UIF, there are other sources of funds you might consider accessing so that your financial difficulty doesn’t cause irreparable damage.

One of the first considerations when looking for funds is to see where money is still owed to you, and collect any outstanding funds. A common mistake that people make (not only those who are struggling financially) is to wave any money owed to them for the sake of avoiding conflict. While it may lead to some slightly awkward conversations, the place to start is with immediate family and friends. Not only are your family and friends people with whom you have an established rapport, but they are probably the ones most willing to want to help you out of your situation.
You might, however, have available funds or assets that you could free up. Start where that your money and assets act as a surplus to your needs. If you have money in an emergency fund – great, you’ve already planned well for a situation like this.

You might have funds in a savings account that has not been allocated towards a specific purpose and that might be something to consider, although some of these accounts may have a notice period with an exorbitant penalty fee for early withdrawal.

Medical aid saving accounts, although technically being an accessible source of funds, often requires two things – that you resign as a member of the scheme, and wait out the four-month period in which you can still make claims to your medical aid. Not only do you lose your long-term coverage in case of a health emergency, but you will also have to pay a late-joiner fee when joining again and you won’t be able to access the money with immediate effect.

One should be careful of taking out any loans in a time of unemployment or financial distress. Even though a loan might help you get back on your feet, it might be something that will weigh you down for a long time to come.

A vital rule to abide by is not to use funds from a credit facility in order to pay off debt. If you use credit to pay off credit, you’ll be accumulating two sets of interests on the money owed, which leaves you extremely vulnerable.

Lastly, accessing pension funds and other long-term investments should be your last consideration. Any funds that might affect your retirement or the futures of your dependents should, as far as possible, stay untouched. Re-accumulating the wealth necessary for retirement, as well as recuperating the value lost on the interest you would have received, is extremely difficult.

While there are a lot of options to consider when you do find yourself in a tricky financial situation, there are definitely some avenues that will work better for you than others. Knowing exactly what to do requires concentrated research. For this reason, consulting with a financial advisor can ease the process and set you in the right direction to get out with minimal damage.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

Lockdown Tips: Simple steps to take control of your finances

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the globe and left economic destruction in its path. Now, more than ever, it is of utmost importance to take control of and manage your finances so that you can enter this time of uncertainty with the peace of mind you deserve. Follow these simple steps to take back control of your finances:

1. Keep an eye on your credit score

Due to COVID-19 and the nationwide lockdown, many South Africans’ financial situations and financial security have changed. This change can influence your credit score, which is why you need to keep an eye on it.

Why? Because by protecting your credit score, your chances of being accepted for the best deals on credit products will increase. It comes as no surprise that many credit providers are tightening their belts and lending criteria during this time, so make sure to put yourself in the best possible situation when it comes to credit.

2. Apply for credit as soon as possible, if you need it

As mentioned above, many credit providers are tightening their belts and has withdrawn numerous products from the market. If you need to apply for credit, we advise you to do this as soon as possible to secure the right product and price for said product.

3. Cut back on expenditure

It’s important to take the time to look at your income and outcome, especially in preparation for the coming months. To reduce your expenditure, you can either reduce an outgoing payment or delay it. An example of reducing your outgoing expenditure is cancelling a subscription that you no longer use or don’t use as often.

If you want to delay your outgoing expenditure, you can choose to put your payments on hold by taking a payment holiday. Applying for a mortgage payment holiday can significantly soften your financial blow during this crisis and luckily, most lenders are now offering this option.

Whatever plans and measures you put in place to manage your finances during this crisis, make sure to stay calm, collected and safe.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Tax relief amid COVID-19

While South Africa is currently in a state of lockdown during which a significant number of businesses have had to cease operations, some relief from a tax perspective has been announced by the government. Tax-compliant businesses with a turnover of less than R50 million will be allowed to defer (importantly, not have waived) 20% of their pay-as-you-earn liabilities over the next four months, and a portion of their provisional corporate income tax payments, without penalties or interest over the next six months.

There is, however, a legal and practical difficulty in the proposed relief.

Legal

While President Ramaphosa and his Cabinet have alluded to these relief mechanisms, they remain part of the Executive arm of Government. They cannot make law and amendments thereto; that is a function and privilege of the Legislature (Parliament). Without such relief mechanisms being legislated, SARS must impose penalties and interest on late- or short payments in line with existing legislation. It is highly unlikely that Parliament will be convened to make amendments to tax acts to accommodate for the relief. So, what can be done?

SARS can, through a so-called “practise generally prevailing” set-out their application of a tax act. Such a “practise generally prevailing” should be contained in an official SARS publication, which includes a Practise Note. It could, therefore, be considered that SARS issues a Practice Note to indicate how they will apply specific provisions which impose penalties and interest in certain instances. Although not yet tested in law, it is one of the options that could be considered to attach legal consequences to the relief mechanisms which have been proposed. It will be interesting to see what SARS decides to do in this case.

Practical

Persons who deal with compliance related matters will be well aware that penalties and interest are imposed automatically on statements of account when payments are submitted late, or short payments are made. Systems trigger these penalties and interest. Even though SARS’s eFiling system is one of the best electronic filing systems globally, it is unlikely that changes will be made thereto on such short notice.

Unless there is manual intervention from a SARS official, taxpayers who make use of the relief mechanisms, will automatically find themselves in a dispute process. Even though they are fully entitled to the relief (on the assumption that the relief gets properly legislated as indicated above), they will have to go through the process to have penalties and interest remitted.

We suggest, that before any of the relief mechanisms are utilised, taxpayers consult with advisors to ensure that firstly, the relief is legally available, and secondly, how they must manage the dispute process.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)