Movement At The FBT Station: COVID-19 Tests, Car Parking

FBT is generally seen as a relatively slow-moving and quiet area of tax law. But Budget day this year saw some movement at the FBT station, specifically regarding COVID-19 tests provided to staff, and also car parking benefits.

RATs for employees

The 2022–2023 Federal Budget included a measure, now passed into law, to make costs for taking a COVID-19 test to attend their workplace tax-deductible for individuals from 1 July 2021.

COVID-19 tests, including rapid antigen tests (RATs), provided by employers to employees are considered benefits under the FBT regime.

However, by allowing for an individual tax deduction, the new measure also allows for the operation of the “otherwise deductible” rule to reduce the taxable value of the benefit to zero. The result? By introducing a specific individual income tax deduction, employers would also not have to pay FBT.

Neat solution. Well, apart from the catch: employee-level declarations could be required when the provision of a RAT is a property fringe benefit (that is, legal ownership of the item passes from the employer to the employee).

Where a RAT is provided as an expense reimbursement or residual benefit, an employer-level declaration is available (that is, one declaration signed by the public officer on behalf of each employing entity lodging an FBT return to declare that there is no private use).

In case collecting hundreds or thousands of employee-level paper declarations is not how you’d like to spend your time, we see three options at this stage:

  • assess the potential application of the minor benefit rule to your situation;
  • explore your policy and processes to determine whether the benefit provided could meet an exemption or documentation exception; and
  • use an automated, electronic declaration tool to take some pain out of the process.

 “Commercial parking station” definition

As a reminder:

  • a car parking fringe benefit can only arise where the employee parks their car for at least four hours during a daylight period in an employer-provided space in the vicinity of the principal workplace;
  • there must be a commercial parking station that charges more than a threshold amount (currently $9.25) for all-day parking within one kilometre of the entrance to the employer’s car park; and
  • “all-day parking” means parking continuously for at least six hours between 7 am and 7 pm.

The scope of the term “commercial parking station” is therefore fundamental to determining if an employer has taxable car parking benefits.

Broadly, a commercial parking station is one where car parking spaces are, for payment of a fee, available in the ordinary course of business to members of the public for all-day parking.

The ATO issued a ruling in 2021 that no longer applied the interpretation that car parking facilities with a primary purpose other than providing all-day parking (usually charging significantly higher rates) are not commercial parking stations. This was to apply from 1 April 2022.

In effect, this would bring facilities like shopping centre car parks and hospital car parks into the definition of a “commercial parking station”. For employers with only that type of parking within a one-kilometre radius, the consequences were significant, potentially bringing previously non-taxable employer-provided car parking within the scope of FBT.

The Federal Government has announced it will be undertaking consultation with the intent of restoring the previously understood application of FBT to car parking fringe benefits, which is closer to the original policy intent of the car parking FBT provisions. The readjusted definition would then apply from 1 April 2022 instead.

Important: Clients should not act solely on the basis of the material contained here. Items herein are general comments only and do not constitute or convey advice per se. Also, changes in legislation may occur quickly. We, therefore, recommend that our formal advice be sought before acting in any of the areas.

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