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Revenue commissioners bracing for rise in tax claims and disputes over working-from-home expenses

Internal email show concerns over communications of expense entitlements among the public.

Image: Shutterstock/Pra Chid

THE REVENUE Commissioners are bracing themselves for a significant rise in the number of tax claims for working from home due to Covid-19.

They have also predicted disputes over what level of the expense will be allowed for and the type of payments that will qualify for relief, according to internal emails.

The discussions followed an email from Robert Watt, the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure, to counterparts across the public service in late March.

Some civil servants had been querying whether a €3.20 per day work from home allowance would be paid but the government was fearful of the cost implications of such a move.

In it, he wrote: “We should be sending a clear message that such claims will not be entertained or funded”.

In emails released under FOI, senior Revenue officials said there were now likely to be “significant numbers of claims” from civil and public servants, and also other employees for tax relief for working from home.

In a warning also sent to chairman Niall Cody, one official predicted that arguments surrounding how much to claim for things like electricity, heat, mobile, and broadband bills would be “problematic”.

“Decisions on apportionment between private and employment use are always problematic in that context,” said the message.

In another email, Assistant Secretary Declan Rigney said significant “extra processing work” was to be expected and that this increased workload had been brought to the attention of government.

“There’s been no change to the DPER [Dept of Public Expenditure] view,” it concluded.

Another Revenue official also suggested they needed to be doing more to alert employees to their entitlements even if it created an extra work burden.

In an email, Philip Brennan of their Personal Taxes Policy and Legislative Decision unit said if Revenue accepted “home-working” payments were to be allowed, then it needed to be made clear.

He wrote: “Surely it behoves us a tax administration, and the civil service as an employer, to make that position public.”

Mr Brennan also suggested that in addition to a significant increase in claims mainly for relatively small amounts, “resultant arguments over apportionment methods as to work/private expenses” were inevitable.

He wrote: “That is just something we will have to deal with in due course.

“So, in all the circumstances, I don’t think we can reasonably object to the D/PER [Dept of Public Expenditure] proposal to include a piece on the tax relief issue.”

In other emails – all of them from April – Revenue said government rejection of a universal work-from-home allowance was “pretty much as expected and was always going to be D/PER [Dept of Public Expenditure] call to make”.

They said their information leaflets on claiming expenses for e-working had tried to remove the “complication” from working out how to split bills between personal and employment use.

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That official said: “We were conscious of this when drafting the [advice] and advise… that Revenue are willing to accept 10% as the home element.

“In being this prescriptive and deliberately saying light and heat we hope to avoid confusion.”

The email said they would “message” entitlements from e-working at the time tax returns were being made and “generally encourage taxpayers to claim their entitlements”.

A spokesman for the Revenue Commissioners said they had a dedicated Covid-19 information page to deal with all tax issues arising from the pandemic.

He said: “Included in this information from the outset was Revenue’s updated guidance in respect of e-working and tax.

“This guidance… includes updated Covid-related examples for individuals who are working from home and outlines the approach for employees claiming relief in respect of the number of days working from home, apportioned on the basis of business and private use.”

He said their yearly campaign planned for October or November would alert taxpayers to all of their entitlements, with a specific element covering e-working and tax this year.

The spokesman said issues over apportionment of expenses would be dealt with on a case by case basis, and that any increased workload from claims would be dealt with by an “agile and responsive” staff.

About the author:

Ken Foxe

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