Deducting home office expenses in 2020 (February 2021)

One of the biggest pandemic-related changes in the day-to-day lives of Canadians was the abrupt change to work-from-home arrangements. While such arrangements aren’t new — employees and the self-employed have been working from home for decades, ever since the available technology made such arrangements feasible — what changed in 2020 was the sheer number of Canadians who were working from home for the first time.

Even without a pandemic, such work-from-home arrangements have a number of advantages — no one really misses the daily commute, or the costs of that commute and other unavoidable work-related expenses. And, as many Canadians will discover when preparing their tax return for 2020, those advantages include the ability to deduct, for tax purposes, some of the expenses incurred to maintain a home office.

Many if not most employees who worked from home in 2020 will, in fact, have a choice of how to calculate and claim such home office expense deductions. Canada’s tax system already has rules in place to govern the tax treatment of expenditures and reimbursements related to home office work by employees. While those rules aren’t particularly complex, there is some record keeping and calculations required. With that in mind, and in light of the likely millions of taxpayers who will be in a position to claim home office expenses for 2020, the federal government has made available a more straightforward “flat rate” method.

The new temporary flat rate method simplifies the employee’s claim for home office expenses to a significant degree. An employee is eligible to use this new method if he or she worked more than 50% of the time from home for a period of at least four consecutive weeks in 2020 due to the pandemic. Where an employee was provided by his or her employer with the option of working from home and chose to do so, he or she will still be eligible for the flat rate method deduction, assuming the 50%/four week criteria are met.

An eligible employee can claim $2 for each day he or she worked from home in 2020 due to the pandemic. However, the maximum that an individual can claim for the 2020 tax year using the new temporary flat rate method is $400 (200 working days). There is no requirement to document any actual expenses incurred, and no requirement that the employer provide any kind of certification of the work-from-home arrangement.

In many households both spouses worked from home during 2020. Assuming that all of the criteria above are met, both spouses can make a claim for home office expenses using the flat rate method.

Although the new temporary flat rate method is widely available, taxpayers who qualify are still entitled to use the pre-existing detailed method under which actual eligible expenses incurred during the year are tallied and a percentage of those expenses claimed on the 2020 tax return.

In order to claim a deduction for costs related to a work-from-home space using the detailed method, an employee must meet at least one of the following conditions:

  • the employee worked from home during 2020 as a consequence of the pandemic; or
  • the employee was required by his or her employer to work from home during 2020.

In addition, at least one of the following criteria must also be satisfied in order to claim work-from-home costs under the detailed method:

  • the home work space is where the individual mainly (more than 50% of the time) did his or her their work for a period of at least four consecutive weeks during 2020; or
  • the individual uses the workspace only to earn his or her employment income—he or she must also use it on a regular and continuous basis for meeting clients, customers, or other people in the course of his or her employment duties.

Once these threshold criteria are met, a broad range of costs become deductible by the employee. Specifically, a salaried employee can claim and deduct the part of specified costs that relate to his or her workspace, such as the cost of rent or condo fees, electricity, heating, water, and home maintenance. For 2020, the list of eligible expenses has been expanded to specifically include internet access fees.

There is no specific formula provided for determining the proportion of eligible costs which can be deducted for qualifying home office expenses. The employee can determine that percentage based on the square footage of the workspace as a percentage of the overall square footage of the home, or he or she can make that calculation based on the number of rooms in the house or apartment relative to the number of rooms used for work-related purposes. Whichever method is chosen, the most important consideration is that the approach taken (and the expenses claimed) be reasonable. In all cases, the CRA can ask the taxpayer to provide documentation and support for claims made using the detailed method.

There is one further requirement for employees who seek to deduct costs incurred in relation to a home office using the detailed method. Each such employee must obtain either a Form T2200S, Declaration of Conditions of Employment for Working at Home Due to Covid-19or Form T2200, Declaration of Conditions of Employment. On those forms, the employer must certify the work-from-home arrangement and confirm that the employee is not being reimbursed for any home office expenses incurred. Where there is any kind of reimbursement provided, the employer must specify the type of expense reimbursed, and the amount of reimbursement. And, of course, the employee cannot claim a deduction for any expenses for which reimbursement was received.

There is no real rule of thumb to determine which of the two methods outlined above would produce a better tax result in each employee’s circumstances. The choice is, however, that of the employee. Those who are willing to do the necessary calculations to determine whether a greater deduction can be obtained by using the more detailed method can certainly do so. Those who would rather avoid all of that required record keeping and those calculations can simply claim the standard amount allowed by the CRA.

To help employees decide whether they can claim home office expenses for 2020 and, if so, which method they want to use, the CRA has provided an extremely useful summary of the available methods, together with an online calculator for such expenses. All of that information can be found on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/individuals/topics/about-your-tax-return/tax-return/completing-a-tax-return/deductions-credits-expenses/line-229-other-employment-expenses/work-space-home-expenses/what-changes.html.

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