When can you claim a deduction for home to work travel?
As a general rule, travel from your home to your workplace is not allowed as a deduction because it constitutes a “private expense”. There are however circumstances when you may be entitled to claim some of these travel expenses, or even travel costs to an alternative workplace. But it is a minefield that needs to be negotiated carefully.
What constitutes a deductible travel expense?
You can generally claim the cost of travelling:
- directly between two separate workplaces; for example, when you have a second job
- from your normal workplace to an alternative workplace: for example, a client’s premises while still on duty and back to your normal workplace or directly home
- from your home to an alternative workplace for work purposes and then to your normal workplace or directly home
- if your home was a base of employment – that is, if you started your work at home and travelled to a workplace to continue your work for the same employer (see comments below)
- if you had shifting places of employment – that is, if you regularly worked at more than one site each day before returning home (see comments below), and
- if you needed to carry bulky tools or equipment that you can’t leave at your workplace and you used for work – like an extension ladder if you’re a tradesperson or a cello if you’re a musician.
When can you count your home as a workplace?
You cannot count your home as a workplace unless you carry out “itinerant work”; that is, work that requires you to travel from place to place.
If you do itinerant work or have shifting places of work, you can typically claim the cost of driving between workplaces and your home. The following factors may indicate that you do itinerant work:
- travel is a fundamental part of your work, as the very nature of your work, not just because it is convenient to you or your employer
- you have a “web” of workplaces you travel to, throughout the day
- you continually travel from one work site to another
- your home is your base of operations – you start work at home and cannot complete it until you attend at your work site
- you are often uncertain of the location of your work site
- your employer provides an allowance in recognition of your need to travel continually between different work sites and you use this allowance to pay for your travel.
Common examples of such workers would include commercial travellers and government inspectors whose homes are the base of their operations from which they travel to one of a number of locations throughout the day over a continuing period.
Typically, in these cases, the employee will show up at the employer’s office periodically (like once a week) to complete or file reports, pick up supplies or organise future trips. Travel from home to the office and back made in these limited circumstances will be treated as business travel and as a result can be tax deductible.
What you can’t claim
You generally can’t claim the cost of travelling between work and home just because:
- you do minor work-related tasks – like picking up the mail on the way to work or home
- you have to drive between your home and your workplace more than once a day
- you are on call – for example, you are on standby duty as a locum and your employer contacts you at home to come into work
- there is no public transport near where you work
- you work outside normal business hours – for instance, shift work or overtime
- your home was a place where you ran your own business and you travelled directly to a place of work where you worked for somebody else
- you do some work at home
We have provided three examples below adapted from the Tax Office to explain what can and cannot be claimed when it comes to home to work travel.
Example 1: Travel between jobs
Kim is a clerk at a retail store. She drives her car from her normal workplace to her second job as a waiter. After finishing work as a waiter, she goes directly home.
Yes: Kim can claim the car expenses with respect to travel from her normal workplace to her second job. However, she can’t claim the cost of travelling home from her second job.
Example 2: Travel to an alternative workplace
Jana, a dental assistant in the city, is required to attend meetings at her employer’s other clinic in the suburbs. She drives her car to the suburban clinic. As the meetings finish late, she drives straight home.
Yes: Jana can claim the travel cost of each journey.
Example 3: Work from home
Benjamin’s employer has an office in the city but is happy for him to work from home three days a week. On these days, Benjamin sometimes has to drive into the office for a meeting before returning home to work.
No: Benjamin cannot claim the expense incurred in driving between his home and work as it is a private expense.
Above are only straightforward examples though. There will be cases where claiming a deduction is less clear. Ask us for more information on what home to work travel deductions you can and cannot claim.