It's now clear that employees will also work from home on a regular basis post-COVID. It's important for both employer and employee that employees can work from home in an efficient and ergonomic way. However, there are still discussions around the reimbursement of certain homeworking expenses and the provision of homeworking equipment.
The tax authorities are now trying to clarify the matter with a new circular that has taken effect on 1 March 2021 and has been approved by the NSSO (Circular 2021/C/20 on employers' contributions for homeworking). In this article we look at some of the new elements.
Scope of application
The circular only relates to homeworking organized as part of normal working days and therefore does not apply to employees who merely work from home outside normal working hours. The circular will also not apply to company managers. It is also noteworthy to mention that the circular does not apply to special regimes, such as employees benefiting from the Belgian expatriate tax regime or employees working in a "salary split” (employees working simultaneously in Belgium and another country). However, there is the possibility of submitting an application for a ruling to the Office for Advanced Tax Rulings.
Flat-rate home office allowance
An employer can grant employees who work from home on a structural and regular basis a fixed office allowance of maximum EUR 129.48. For the second quarter of 2021, this amount is temporarily increased to a maximum of EUR 144.37. This amount does not need to be reduced in the case of part-time work.
A new feature is that a differentiation can now also be made on the basis of a personnel category. However, a justification is required as to why a higher or lower cost reimbursement is granted to a particular category. We recommend justifying this in a policy or requesting a tax ruling. The circular also describes what exactly is meant by 'structural and regular' homeworking. The rule of thumb remains that there must be at least 5 homeworking days per month. In principle, the lump-sum allowance cannot be paid (not even pro rata) if there is no structural homeworking.
In addition, the circular goes into detail about the content of the lump-sum allowance. In summary, it means that all expenses incurred in the context of working from home should be taken into account, except for the costs of office furniture and computer equipment. Office furniture was included in the lump-sum allowance in the past. Note that the lump-sum allowance may no longer apply if any of the office expenses, such as ink or electricity, are already reimbursed.
Reimbursement of material for homeworking
The tax authorities confirm that it is possible, in addition to the flat-rate homeworking allowance, to reimburse the following expenses:
- office chair
- office table
- desk cabinet
- desk lamp
- a second screen
- keyboard or mouse
- mouse or trackpad
- specific equipment that people with a disability need to be able to work comfortably with a PC.
An important condition applies to the office chair, desk, mouse or trackpad: they only qualify if they are also made available under normal working conditions. How can this be interpreted in practice? The circular stipulates, for example, that this does not apply to an expensive designer desk lamp or a large computer screen that is intended more for gaming. In any case, we recommend putting a reasonable maximum price on all furniture and equipment and not including designer furniture in the offer.
The above items can only be reimbursed if they are based on actual supporting documents. In addition, the investment must be necessary to carry out the professional activity at home in a normal way. Therefore, the employee will always have to provide an invoice to the employer before payment can be made.
The circular also pays attention to the normal period of use of some equipment and furniture in order to avoid abuse of the measure. Suppose that an employee submits an invoice for an ergonomic office chair for EUR 500, the employer can then choose to repay that amount in one lump-sum (once every 10 years) or to repay it in installments. When leaving the company, the employee must repay the (pro rata) amount, otherwise taxes will be paid on the benefit in kind.
Provision of homeworking material
The circular refers to the same list and conditions for reimbursement as for the provision of homeworking material. Providing material yourself brings a lot of advantages. On the one hand, it is easier for the employee. On the other hand, the employer usually enjoys interesting discounts. In addition, there is the possibility of including the benefit in a cafeteria plan, so that it remains budget-neutral for the employer. The threshold must of course be as low as possible for the employee and the employer; it is in everyone's best interest that the employee can work from home in the best possible circumstances.
No benefit in kind should be charged. Thus, no withholding tax or social security is payable unless the value of the equipment unreasonably exceeds the needs of homeworking. Upon leaving the company, the employee should be taxed on a benefit in kind equal to the residual value if he or she is allowed to keep the equipment. A personal contribution may be deducted from that amount.
Lump-sum reimbursements of other material
Some new flat-rate reimbursements are also listed in the circular:
- the already existing internet fee of EUR 20;
- a new reimbursement of EUR 20 for the use of the private computer at home;
- a new reimbursement of EUR 5 per accessory (e.g. screen, printer, etc.) with a maximum of EUR 10.
All reimbursement of expenses proper to the employer in the framework of homeworking must, from now on, also be mentioned on the 281.10 form.
This circular is a game changer. There are now clear instructions regarding the reimbursement and provision of homeworking material. It is up to employers to implement this correctly and ensure that employees can work in an ergonomic way at their home workstation. We recommend looking closely at all the implications: fiscal, legal, accounting and IT-aspects. The practical aspects (e.g. suppliers, delivery and exit) also need to be looked at well in advance. KPMG's Reward team will be happy to assist you.