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Tax Insights March 2021 - Home working allowances clarified in new circular letter

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, working from home has become the ‘new normal’ for many employees. When working from home, the employee incurs a number of costs for setting up or using a home office, for electricity and heating or in some cases for using his own computer for professional purposes. It was already known that in this case, both the NSSO and the tax authorities accept that a home office allowance of up to 129,48 EUR per month and/or an allowance for the use of the internet connection at home for professional purposes of 20 EUR per month is granted.

In a new circular letter dated February 26th, 2021, the Belgian tax authorities clarified when exactly a home office or internet allowance for home working could be granted. In addition, it has also become clear under what conditions or circumstances office furniture or computer equipment such as an office chair, a desk, a desk lamp or a printer can be made available to the employee or reimbursed to them. At the beginning of the circular letter, it is stated that the principles regarding home working set out in the circular apply only to employees and not to company directors.

HOME OFFICE ALLOWANCE

First of all, it is emphasised that the principles set out in the circular letter apply to home working: work carried out in the private premises of the employee and organised within the framework of normal working days. Work from a satellite office of the employer or outside normal working hours such as evenings or weekends is thus not covered. When an employee performs a substantial part of his working time from home on a structural and regular basis, a fixed home office allowance of up to 129,48 EUR per month can be granted. According to the circular letter, working from home on a structural and regular basis means the equivalent of one working day per week, assessed on a monthly basis: e.g. one full working day per week or two half working days per week. The tax authorities have also confirmed in the circular letter that they follow the instructions of the NSSO regarding the amount for the home office allowance and any possible future increases hereof.

The lump-sum home office allowance is intended to cover, among other things, the following costs: use of office space at the employee's home (including rent and any depreciation of the space), office supplies (such as folders, paper, pens, a mouse pad or ink for a printer), utilities (such as electricity and heating), maintenance, insurances, real estate property tax, coffee, water and refreshments. The maximum amount of the home office allowance does not need to be reduced proportionally for part-time employees as long as this employee works from home on a structural and regular basis as described above. Depending on the circumstances under which home working is organised within the company, a distinction could be made between different categories of employees.

INTERNET ALLOWANCE

When the employee uses his own internet while working from home, the employer can and may grant a lump-sum internet allowance of up to 20 EUR per month, provided that the employer does not contribute to or reimburse for (a part of) the cost of the private internet connection and subscription. 
This internet allowance can be cumulated with a lump-sum home office allowance and the maximum amount does not have to be reduced proportionally for part-time employees either.

OFFICE FURNITURE AND IT EQUIPMENT

The circular letter also explains that it is possible for employers to intervene in the purchase of office furniture such as an office chair, table, cabinet, functional desk lamp and/or computer equipment such as a second computer screen, printer or keyboard. This furniture or equipment can in principle be reimbursed to the employee if the employer provides this type of office furniture or computer equipment under normal circumstances at the workplace, these reimbursements are based on documentary evidence and relate to investments that are necessary to be able to carry out the professional activity at home in a normal way. Investments that are a private expense for the employee or unreasonable expenses (e.g. a very expensive designer desk lamp) are not covered. The costs paid by the employer for office furniture or IT equipment can in principle be combined with a lump-sum home office or internet allowance.

For office furniture and IT equipment, there are basically two possibilities. The first option is that the employer puts the furniture or the computer equipment at the disposal of the employee in the home office. In this case it is clear that the employer remains the owner of the goods made available to the employee. No benefit in kind needs to be recorded in this respect if the normal period of use of these goods is respected. For example, for an office chair or table, the normal period of use is assumed to be 10 years, while this is 3 years for a second computer screen. In case the employee is allowed to keep these goods after the professional activity or home working has ended before the normal period of use of these goods has passed, a taxable benefit arises for the employee. In this case, the employee must either pay back the actual residual value to the employer or the actual residual value must be taxed as a benefit in kind. The second option is for the employer to reimburse the employee for the cost of these goods based on supporting documents.

USE OF PERSONAL COMPUTER AND PERIPHERAL EQUIPMENT

When the private computer is used by the employee in the framework of home working, the employer could grant a lump-sum allowance for this of up to 20 EUR per month, provided that the employer does not contribute to or reimburses the employee for these costs in any other way. Also in this case, this amount does not need to be reduced proportionally for part-time employees. The amount of 20 EUR per month is considered to cover the costs for the use of the private computer, as well as the possible use of own peripheral equipment, such as a second computer screen, a printer, software, ...

It is also possible that the employer makes the computer available to the employee himself and that the employee is therefore not required to use his own computer for professional purposes. In this case, possibly only a second computer screen and/or the own printer/scanner are used for professional purposes. In order to cover for these costs, a lump-sum allowance of 5 EUR per month per item for a maximum of 3 years could be granted instead of the above-mentioned lump-sum allowance of 20 EUR per month. Moreover, an absolute maximum amount of 10 EUR per month applies in this respect.

ON THE ANNUAL FISCAL ATTESTATION 281.10

When the employer pays or reimburses the employee for costs proper to the employee, it depends on the specific situation how this should be reflected on the annual fiscal attestation 281.10 of the employees concerned. When it concerns costs reimbursed based on supporting documents or it concerns a lump-sum cost allowance of which the amount has been determined on the basis of so-called serious and consistent standards, it is up until today not required to mention the exact amount of these reimbursements on the fiscal attestations. 
This will change as from income year 2022: as of then, the exact amounts of all costs paid to the employee as costs proper to the employer (the allowances outlined in this newsletter are examples hereof) will also need to be mentioned on the annual fiscal attestation tax form 281.10 in box 27 – miscellaneous information.

RULING

In any case, it is a good thing that so many aspects concerning home working cost allowances have now been clarified. Depending on the exact work situation or circumstances, nuances or clarifications may still need to be made. It is and remains utterly important to properly substantiate the cost reimbursement policy within the company. The tax team of RSM Belgium is at your disposal for further explanation. The allowances referred to in this newsletter can still be the subject of a ruling request with the Belgian tax authorities in order to obtain certainty about the granted cost allowances in the form of costs proper to the employer. Especially when the home working allowances would be part of a broader policy of cost reimbursements the employer would like to implement within the company or when the actual costs incurred by certain employees would exceed the amounts mentioned in this newsletter or when one would like to make a distinction between certain categories of personnel within the company, obtaining a ruling is and remains recommendable. The RSM Belgium Tax Team is more than happy to provide advice with respect to cost allowances and, if required, assist you with the preparation and filing of a ruling.

If you would like to receive additional information on this matter or require assistance, the Tax team of RSM Belgium is at your disposal ([email protected]). 

RSM InterTax

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