Swords, sunscreen, surgery: The weird things Aussies are trying to claim on tax

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The basic rule is that if you've incurred an expense as part of your job, you can claim it on tax. For instance, if you're a taxi driver, you can claim fuel for your car, while if you're a tradie, you can likely claim a deduction for an array of essential tools.

But what about suits, sunscreen and cosmetic surgery?

Here are some of the more outlandish claims taxpayers have tried to make over the years.

weird tax deductions can i claim sunscreen on tax

Suits you, sir

A high-profile television personality set great store by his personal appearance. Each time he graced our screens, he bought a new suit. Once he'd worn each suit, he gave it away to a charity shop.

Not only did he want to claim a tax deduction for the cost of each new suit (which he claimed he was obliged to wear to maintain his personal brand), he also wanted to claim a further tax deduction for the donation to charity.

Sadly for him, the ATO doesn't allow deductions for the cost of conventional clothing, a category that includes business suits, even those purchased by TV stars.

As for the donations, in theory a donation to a charity is tax-deductible, but what is the value of a second-hand suit? Our dapper star couldn't say because he didn't have receipts from the charity, and without a receipt, there is no possible deduction.

Language skills

A tradie left Australia for a European trip.

On his return, he tried to claim back expenses from his sojourn as 'researching his craft'.

Sure, he'd taken a few nice photos and brushed up his French but his craftsman skills weren't noticeably advanced so the deduction wasn't allowable.

Up in smoke

We all know smoking is bad for you but those who indulge have been known to argue that it reduces their stress levels.

On that basis, one taxpayer argued for a tax deduction for his habit as a form of 'stress relief'. We sent that one up in smoke....

Slip, slop, slap

It's well established that you can claim sunscreen if you work outdoors and clothes to protect you from the elements can also be deductible where you work in a harsh climate.

But we drew the line with the client who wanted to claim sunscreen and an umbrella because his office forced him to go to the park across the road to have a smoke, where he was occasionally exposed to either sun or rain.

Cosmetic enhancement

A well-known fashion model had undertaken various cosmetic procedures to maintain her appearance. She argued that the work done was to maintain her career past the point that it would otherwise have faded out if she hadn't had the work done. As such, she argued there was a clear link between the cosmetic surgery and deriving her income.

It's an argument that seems superficially compelling but it's not one the ATO would agree with; so far as they are concerned, medical procedures are rarely tax-deductible, no matter what the reason.

"Adult" deductions

Taxpayers in the adult entertainment industry can claim all manner of interesting deductions. Taxpayers in the US - but not here - have even claimed that breast enhancements could be tax-deductible as a tool of the trade (not an argument that would find favour here, following the same logic as the cosmetic surgery for the model, above).

So, it's a controversial claim even for adult performers but the lady - with no known connection to the adult industry - who tried to claim that her enhancements were necessary for work was facing even more of an uphill battle. We didn't allow the claim.

Breast enhancements might be a tax no-no but adult performers can look at successfully making claims for items as diverse as dance lessons, hair care, oils, lingerie, costumes and adult toys.

Tears of a clown

Another profession that can generate some very strange tax deductions is being circus performer. Not many people can successfully make a claim for a clown costume, but one client who did was a professional clown.

The whole costume was allowable, including the red nose, as a work-related clothing claim. Similarly, the professional sword swallower was able to claim the ceremonial swords used in his act.

Guard dog

Can you claim a tax deduction for your dog? In very limited circumstances, yes you can, both for the cost of acquiring the animal (the cost is depreciated over several years) and for the costs of keeping it (food, vet bills, etc).

The two most common scenarios where the cost of a dog is tax-deductible are farming (where an animal might be used to round up sheep, for instance) and security (where the cost of a guard dog to patrol business premises might be allowable).

Other than that, forget it. So, for the client who occasionally took his dog to work to guard his tools and equipment and on that basis tried to claim for the dog's food, the claim was politely declined. How he guarded his tools and equipment on the days he didn't take his dog to work, we never found out.

Garden gnomes

Do you own a rental property? In among the usual deductions - mortgage interest, rates, repairs, etc - did you know that you can claim for items that improve your property's street appeal?

Whether you think garden gnomes do that or not is really a matter of personal taste but several clients have successfully claimed them in respect of their rental property. Here's a tip - make sure the gnomes are actually for your rental property; if they turn up in the garden of your family home, they are not deductible!

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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.