Why you can now use your work ute after hours


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It isn't often that the taxman delivers good news but in a potential win for tradies and small businesses, the ATO is proposing to relax some of the tax rules around the private use of work utes.

Typically, the government imposes fringe benefits tax (FBT), a tax paid by employers, where an employer makes a vehicle available for private use by its employees.

However, some types of vehicles are exempt from FBT provided certain criteria are met. The vehicles which qualify for the exemption include:

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- Single cab utes.

- Dual cab utes provided they are not primarily designed to transport passengers.

- Four wheel drive vehicles provided they can carry a load of more than one tonne or they can carry more than eight passengers or they are not primarily designed to carry passengers.

The existence of this exemption has been one of the driving forces behind the boom in sales of so-called "luxury" utes and four wheel drives, which manage to be both well-equipped and rather luxurious inside the cab, whilst still being capable of doing the hard work traditionally associated with this type of vehicle.

The problem with the exemption is that to get it, the employee needs to meet very strict criteria that effectively prevents virtually all private use of the vehicle. Experience has shown that employers find the current rules hard to police, employees get confused as to what - if any - private use is allowable and the ATO has to invest resources policing a system that raises very little tax.

So, to get round that, late last year, the ATO issued draft guidelines setting out a proposed relaxation of the rules that will allow some limited, clearly defined private use of qualifying vehicles without losing the FBT exemption.

If the draft rules become final, the FBT exemption will still be available provided any private use meets the following criteria:

- Any diversion to the normal trip between home and work adds no more than two kilometres to the ordinary length of the employee's trip.

- No more than 750 kilometres in total for each FBT year relates to wholly private trips.

- No single, return journey for a wholly private purpose exceeds 200 kilometres.

The potential effect of this loosening of the rules is that employers will no longer lose access to the FBT exemption where employees use their work ute for common private journeys such as trips to the supermarket on the way home, picking up the kids from school or attending a medical appointment.

Public consultation on the new rules is set to end on February 8, 2018, and the ATO states it hopes to finalise the guidelines in time to apply them any benefits provided in the 2018 tax year and later years.

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Mark Chapman is director of tax communications at H&R Block, Australia's largest firm of tax accountants, and is a regular contributor to Money. Mark is a Chartered Accountant, CPA and Chartered Tax Adviser and holds a Masters of Tax Law from the University of New South Wales. Previously, he was a tax adviser for over 20 years, specialising in individual and small business tax, in both the UK and Australia. As well as operating his own private practice, Mark spent seven years as a Senior Director with the Australian Taxation Office. He is the author of Life and Taxes: A Look at Life Through Tax.