Travel allowance or LAFHA: which applies to you?
Travel Allowance or living-away-from-home allowance (LAFHA)? Understanding the difference between these two allowances can be complex, particularly when there is the perception of an overlap. The allowances are in fact very different, and have different consequences for the person receiving them.
An amount paid by your employer to cover expenses such as accommodation, food, or drinks while you travel for business is typically know as a travel allowance. There is also another type of allowance, called the living-away-from-home allowance (LAFHA), which compensates you for additional expenses when you are required to live away from home due to work duties. So what is the difference between the two?
Travel allowances are considered to be assessable income and PAYG withholding may apply. Any expenses incurred on meals and incidental expenses may be deductible against the allowance if certain criteria are met. Living-away-from-home allowance, however, is subject to Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) and is non-assessable, non-exempt income. Costs of meals and incidental expenses will not be deductible since you are considered to be living away from home and not travelling.
There are no specific set criteria to know whether you are receiving a travel or a LAFHA allowance. The circumstances of each case will determine which one is more appropriate.
The ATO considers the following factors, although not determinative on their own, to be important:
- time spent working away from home – the longer you spend working away from home, the more likely that you are living away from home and not travelling;
- whether you had a usual place of residence at a previous location – you would only be considered to be living away from home where it is reasonable to conclude that you will return to your previous residence when work at the new location ends;
- the nature of accommodation – if you live in settled accommodation, such as a house, unit or apartment, it may indicate that you are living away from home. This is particularly true if the accommodation has the amenities common to a home, such as an equipped kitchen and laundry. On the other hand, if you are staying in a hotel or in transitory accommodation, then it is more likely that you are not living away from home and are merely travelling;
- whether you are, or can be accompanied by family or visited by family or friends – if your family accompany you during the entirety of your stay at a new location then it is likely that you have relocated and are not living away from home or travelling. All meals, living and incidental expenses will be considered to be private and not deductible.
- conversely, if your family members accompany you for a short stay at your new location and subsequently return to live at the family’s permanent home, while you continue to work at the new temporary location, then it is likely that you will be considered to be living away from home.
Usually, your employer should tell you which allowance you’re getting, and a big clue is contained in your payment summary. Travel allowances are usually shown in the allowances section of the payment summary and contribute to your overall taxable income and affect the amount of Medicare levy payable. LAFHA is usually included in the reportable fringe benefits section and does not contribute to your overall taxable income or affect the amount of Medicare levy payable. It does, however, affect other things including the tax offset for eligible spouse superannuation contributions, HELP repayments, child support obligations, and entitlement to certain income-tested government benefits.
If you receive a travel allowance, expenses can be deducted without documentary evidence where it is considered by the ATO to be “reasonable”. However, if you have a lot of expenses that may go over the reasonable amount set by the ATO, it would be wise to keep documentary evidence, such as receipts and supporting evidence (eg, bank or credit card statements).
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