Claiming Home Office expenses – a COVID-19 perspective

A well-known result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the way it changed the world of work. Many employees who worked remotely during the lockdown period have since returned to their corporate office while others continue to work from home. The trend towards more flexible working arrangements – working from home – gained ground in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. However, if you do have a home office (either a dedicated office or a part of your home) it needs to be set up correctly to get the most out of it in terms of productivity and tax savings. Many employees incurred additional expenses over the last few months in setting up such and running home office spaces The question on everyone’s lips now is whether these expenses, or at least a part of it, can be claimed as a tax deduction in the next tax return. The short answer is it depends.

Generally speaking, having a dedicated home office may allow you to claim a tax deduction from SARS if:
  • you are a full-time employee who spends more than half your working hours in your home office,
  • commission-earners whose employers do not provide them with offices and
  • a small business owner or freelancer who always works from home.
The deduction of expenses for maintaining a home office has been quite a controversial issue in the past. The discussion in this blog provides a general overview, but specific circumstances may require closer investigation by your tax practitioner.

Examples of home office expenses

Home office expenses may include:

  • costs of running your office such as office equipment, business calls from private telephones, cleaning and office stationery,
  • the cost of repairs to the premises,
  • interest on the property bond,
  • rental paid if you rent your home,
  • rates and taxes,
  • wear and tear of assets used for purposes of the home office.

The requirements

For home office expenses to qualify for a tax deduction

If you are required to work from home and you have set aside a dedicated space where you conduct your work or “trade”, you may be allowed to deduct certain home office expenses for tax purposes. These deductions are calculated on a pro-rata basis. However, the space (a room or a part of a room) in your house will only be considered to be used and occupied for trade purposes if both of the following requirements are met:

  • such part of your home is specifically equipped for the purposes of your trade, your employment and profession, and
  • regularly and exclusively used for the purposes of your trade.

Should the space meet the above requirements, and your trade constitutes employment or holding of an office (for example as a salaried employee), a tax deduction will only be granted with regards to your home office expenses under the following additional requirements: If,

  • the income from your employment or office is derived mainly (more than 50%) from commission or other variable payments and you do not perform your duties mainly (more than 50% of the time) in an employer provided office; or
  • you mainly (more than 50%) perform your duties in your home office (i.e. that room/part of your home/dwelling that is occupied for purposes of trade).

Who is not eligible

No deduction is allowed when salaried employees work mainly from an employer provided office and perform only some duties at home – for example teachers. It is clear from the above that generally, only a few employees who earn salary income only or no/limited commission income would qualify to claim a tax deduction for home office expenses. You should, therefore, only claim such a tax deduction if you are very sure and able to demonstrate and prove to SARS that you meet these requirements. If you are unable to provide proof that you meet all the requirements, rather be cautious by not claiming.

Additional guidelines about home office expenses and tax

  • The tax deduction for home office expenses is generally calculated on a pro-rata basis taking into account the size of the home office (the part in square metres which meets the mentioned requirements) relative to the size of your entire home.
  • Including the requirement to use a space (a room or part of a room) in your house for trade and business purposes in your employment contract with your employer, will strengthen your tax position should SARS request you to prove this.
  • If you are a salaried employee who qualifies for a home office tax deduction, you should ideally receive an allowance from your employer against which you can claim the tax deduction in your tax return.
  • Your home office doesn’t need to be an entire room and can be only part of a room, provided that part is specifically equipped for the purposes of your trade and regularly and exclusively used for this purpose.
  • Household expenses incurred for the home office which you may include in your home office tax deduction are your bond interest, if renting a dwelling the rent paid by you, rates and taxes, electricity, insurance, domestic worker’s wages, cost of repairs etc.
  • In addition to household expenses, other claimable amounts include wear and tear on furniture, fittings and equipment used in your office for business purposes. The cost of these assets may be written off for tax purposes over their anticipated useful lifespan. The cost of business calls made from your private home telephone line and/or cell phone may also be claimed as a tax deduction.
  • It is important to note that claiming a tax deduction for home office expenses may have implications for capital gains tax when you sell your home in future. This is because any capital gain on the sale of the property will be apportioned with reference to the extent to which the property was used for business purposes. The R2-million ‘primary residence’ exclusion (for natural persons and special trusts) will only apply to the portion of your home used for domestic purposes.
  • Capital expenditure – buildings and other structures of a permanent nature cannot be deducted as home office expenditure for tax purposes. Any expense that is of a capital nature does not qualify for a wear and tear allowance – whether an employee’s remuneration is derived mainly from commission or not. The cost of any portion of the employee’s domestic premises and improvements thereto may not be deducted.

Potential future changes

Various stakeholders submitted a proposal recently to National Treasury, requesting they provide relief to taxpayers who were forced to work from home and who incurred business-related expenditure as a result. This is given that most salaried employees were (or still are) required to work from home and would likely not be able to claim a tax deduction for home office expense based on the current legislation. To avoid taxpayers having to keep detailed records, the proposal is that a deemed tax deduction be permitted – by permitting taxpayers working from home, for example, to claim an income tax deduction at a prescribed hourly rate.