Tax tips for teachers – what you can and can't claim for

Tax time is on the horizon. Can you claim for your wall display posters or the prize rewards for students you keep dipping into your own pocket for? What about that professional learning conference you went to on the holidays, or your travel costs for after-school events? And, is your flu shot a deductible expense? We spoke to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to find out.

Buying things for the classroom

A lot of teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies and buying things for students. Can they claim any of that back?

Unfortunately, teachers can't claim a deduction for the cost of gifts for their students or for helping to meet students' personal expenses – for example, paying for lunch.

However, teachers can claim a deduction for the cost of classroom supplies used to perform their job. Classroom supplies could include items such as pens, markers, stamps, paint, stationery, posters, maps, storybooks and prizes to reward and encourage students.

If the item is used for work and personal use, then the amount claimed will need to be apportioned between work and personal use.

Common expenses and what you shouldn't claim for

What are some of the common expenses that teachers can claim for that most don't? And, on the flip side, something they try and claim for that they shouldn't.

As long as the expense relates to their employment, teachers can claim a deduction for the work-related portion of the cost of phone and internet usage, excursions, school camps, first aid courses, seminars, protective equipment such as sunglasses and sun hats, technical publications and union and professional fees.

Some claims that teachers have tried to claim and shouldn't have, include travel to and from work and other private expenses like yoga, pay TV and flu shots. More information about what teachers can and can't claim can be found here.

Working from home

All teachers work from home on evenings and weekends. What are the main things they can and can't claim for when working from home? Do they need a formal working from home agreement?

A teacher does not require a formal agreement with their employer to claim home office expenses. If a teacher works from home, they will be entitled to claim a deduction for the additional running costs they incur as a result of time they spend working from home.

Teachers generally can't claim occupancy expenses such as rent, rates, mortgage interest and house insurance premiums. More information about what home office expenses you can and can't claim can be found here.

Professional learning expenses

Many teachers take additional qualifications and attend formal professional learning throughout the year. This comes under self-education expenses. Do all courses qualify?

Self-education eligible courses: Teachers can claim a deduction for self-education expenses if the course relates directly to their current job – for example, a course in working with children with special needs. Teachers cannot claim a deduction for self-education expenses for a course that does not have a sufficient connection to their current work activities even though it: might be generally related to it; or, enables them to get new employment.

For example, if a legal studies teacher undertakes a Bachelor of Law degree they would not be entitled to a deduction for the cost of course. While the course may assist them in a very general way, the primary purpose of the course is to enable them to get new employment as a solicitor not to improve their skills as a teacher.

Seminars, conferences and education workshops: Teachers can claim the cost of attending seminars, conferences or education workshops that are sufficiently connected to their work activities.

Travel costs – who can and can't claim

Generally, teachers can't claim travel to and from work, but can casual relief teachers claim this? Or, can all teachers claim travel if it's to another school, for example, to take part in professional learning or meetings, exam marking …?

Teachers can't claim a deduction for the normal trips between their home and school, even where they are a casual relief teacher, live a long way from school, have to travel outside normal school hours, or have to make more than one trip to school during the day.

For example, even if a teacher is required to attend parent-teacher interviews at the school after hours, they are not entitled to a deduction for travel from home to school just because they have travelled outside normal school hours or because it is their second trip from home to the school in the same day.

However, if a relief teacher is required to do a shift at one school in the morning and then a different school in the afternoon, they can claim a deduction for the cost of travelling between the schools.

What records you need to keep

With record keeping, what does the ATO need teachers to keep as evidence? Do you need a record for every claim, regardless of how small?

For small expenses, $10 or less, as long as the total of claims for small expenses is less than $200, teachers don't need to keep a receipt. However, they will need to keep a record in order to claim a deduction. For example, they can make a record by writing it in a diary.

For information on when a teacher does not need to keep receipts for overtime meals and overnight travel expenses including accommodation and meals, please refer to [this information on record keeping on the ATO website].

For expenses that the teacher does need to keep a record of, the ATO has a handy record keeping tool, myDeductions in the ATO's app.

Finally, what advice do you have for teachers for the coming 12 months in terms of record keeping that will make the process easier for them next time around?

The ATO's app My Deduction tool – also found here – keeps track of work-related expenses and store receipts. At the end of the year, teachers can upload their expenses from the app into their tax return in myTax or provide the file to their tax agent.