Home working and flat-rate office allowance: a new circular!

Author: Isabelle Caluwaerts (Legal Expert)
Date:

An employer may grant a flat-rate office allowance of up to €129.48 per month to employees who work from home on a structural and regular basis for a substantial part of their working time, as reimbursement of expenses properly due by the employer. A recent tax circular clarifies the principles.

General

In principle, all allowances received as a result of or in connection with the professional activity are taxable as remuneration. However, an allowance may be considered as a non-taxable reimbursement of the employer's own expenses if the employer can prove that the allowance is intended to cover expenses that are properly due by him and the allowance is actually spent on such expenses.

Employers may determine such allowances on a flat-rate basis without them losing the character of actual expenses when their amount has been established in accordance with serious standards resulting from repeated observations and sampling.

The employer's own expenses reimbursed on the basis of a flat-rate amount may of course no longer be borne by the employer on the basis of actual supporting documents.

The flat-rate office allowance

The employer can reimburse the office expenses of home workers. This reimbursement may take the form of a flat-rate allowance.

The flat-rate office allowance described in the circular covers all office expenses. These are all costs that have to be incurred on a regular basis in order to carry out the professional activity in a normal way.

The flat-rate office allowance includes, for example:

  • the use of office space at the employee's home (including rent and any depreciation of the space);
  • printer and computer supplies (this does not mean the printer and computer themselves, but for example paper, a USB stick, mouse pad, ink, etc.);
  • office supplies (files, notebooks, pens, etc.);
  • utilities such as water, electricity and heating;
  • maintenance;
  • insurance;
  • property tax;
  • coffee, water, refreshments.

What amount?

An employer may grant a flat-rate office allowance of up to €129.48 per month to employees who work from home on a structural and regular basis for a substantial part of their working time.

The government has decided to increase the maximum amount of €129.48 per month for April, May and June 2021 to a maximum amount of €144.31 per month. The conditions for granting this temporarily increased allowance have yet to be defined.

The administration accepts the granting of this flat-rate allowance on condition that the employee works from home on a regular and structural basis and the employer does not interfere in any other way with these office expenses (e.g. when the employer pays part of the electricity costs).

When the monthly amount granted is higher than the maximum amount and no supporting documents are provided to justify the amount, the taxable part of the allowance, i.e. the part of the allowance exceeding the maximum amount, is subject to withholding tax.

In the case of part-time work, the maximum amount must not be reduced proportionally. If a part-time worker actually works from home on a structural and regular basis, the employer may grant the maximum flat-rate office allowance, regardless of the number of hours provided for in the employment contract.

The amount of the flat-rate office allowance may also be paid during normal annual leave.

The employer may differentiate the office allowance granted on the basis of the category of staff or the actual circumstances in which the home working is organised, except where it is established that such differentiation is aimed at granting a higher allowance to a specific member of staff without sufficient justification, or where a 'category of staff' is established for the same purpose.

Working from home on a structural and regular basis

The flat-rate office allowance can be granted to employees who work from home on a structural and regular basis.

Homework is understood to mean any form of organisation and/or performance of work in which work, that could also be carried out in the employer's workplace, is regularly carried out outside that workplace.

The notion of 'workplace' is to be understood in a broad sense, encompassing the activities of employees that are normally carried out at the customer's premises or at another location (e.g. at a satellite office of the employer, i.e. a decentralised room of the employer or a room that the employer puts at the disposal of the employee).

Homework must therefore be carried out in the employee's private premises. Work performed in a satellite office of the employer is not homework. A satellite office is considered to be part of the employer's workplace.

The circular applies to homework organised as part of normal working days. It therefore does not apply to employees who work from home outside normal working hours (e.g. evenings or weekends).

Working from home on a structural and regular basis is understood to mean the equivalent of one working day per week (e.g. one full working day per week, two half working days per week or several days of a few hours worked during normal working hours). This is assessed on a monthly basis.

Non-structural homeworking refers to any form of working from home that does not meet the requirement of working from home for at least the equivalent of one working day per week.

For example, this includes the employees who:

  • of their normal working hours only work a few hours a month from home;
  • do their normal working hours at the workplace or elsewhere, but outside these hours (e.g. in the evening or at weekends) perform administrative tasks at home;
  • are absent for a full calendar month (e.g. In the event of illness for the full month, maternity leave, career break, extended periods of technical unemployment).

In the case of non-structural homeworking, the flat-rate office allowance does not apply (not even a percentage of it).

Can the flat-rate office allowance be combined with other flat-rate allowances?

In addition to the flat-rate office allowance of €129.48 per month (€144.31 per month in the second quarter of 2021), the employer may grant the following additional flat-rate allowances:

  • an allowance of maximum €20 per month for the professional use of a private Internet connection and subscription and
  • an allowance of up to €20 per month for the professional use of a personal computer with peripherals, or
  • an allowance of up to €10 per month (€5 per item) for the professional use of a personal second computer screen, printer/scanner without a private computer.

Can the flat-rate office allowance be combined with the provision of office furniture/IT equipment?

The tax authority accepts that the provision of certain goods which are necessary for the normal performance of the professional activity at home does not give rise to the taxation of a benefit of any kind.

More specifically, it concerns, restrictively, the reimbursement of an office chair, an office table, an office cupboard, a functional desk lamp, a second computer screen, a printer/scanner, a keyboard, a mouse, a foot mouse, a trackpad or trackball, a telephone headset, and/or specific equipment that persons with disabilities need to be able to work easily with a PC.

This provision does not affect the amount of the flat-rate allowance. This is intended to reimburse other costs.

Can the flat-rate office allowance be combined with the reimbursement of the purchase price of office furniture/IT equipment?

The flat-rate office allowance covers all office expenses that have to be incurred on a regular basis in order to carry out the professional activity in a normal way.

However, in addition to the flat-rate office allowance, some employers want to intervene in the purchase of office furniture/IT equipment (see restrictive list above) financed by the employee.

The tax authority accepts that the above mentioned reimbursements for office furniture/IT equipment are considered as a reimbursement of the employer's own expenses, without these reimbursements having to be deducted from the flat-rate office allowance, provided that:

  • they are based on actual supporting documents

and

  • they are related to investments which are necessary for the normal performance of the professional activity at home.

The employer must keep supporting documents available and one-off reimbursements must remain reasonable.

Excluded

The scheme described in this circular cannot be applied to company managers or employees who fall under special regimes such as, for example, foreign executives, salary split for employees who work in different countries for the same employer, etc.

And in terms of social security?

The NSSO has decided to follow the tax circular with regard to the qualification of the provision of equipment and reimbursements within the framework of expenses related to homeworking.

Entry into force

The circular entered into force on 1 March 2021, but the tax authority will take into account the principles contained therein for homework situations that have occurred since 1 January 2020.

The circular does not affect the rulings in force.

 

For any legal questions concerning the employer's contributions for homeworking, or the implementation thereof, please do not hesitate to contact our consultants via legalpartners@partena.be

Sources: Circular 2021/C/20 on employers' compensations for homework, https://eservices.minfin.fgov.be/myminfin-web/pages/fisconet#!/document/c4b263eb-091c-4a11-8ad0-24e2b11bb7db, 26 February 2021, NSSO Instructions (4 March 2021): https://www.socialsecurity.be/employer/instructions/dmfa/fr/latest/intermediates

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