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Geoff Crouch

Standing up for the industry on truck driver meal allowances

December 2017

Back in July, the tax office announced a rash decision to slash employee truck driver meal allowances. In 2016–17, employee truck drivers were able to claim up to $97.40 per day for meal expenses, on a meal-by-meal basis, without detailed receipts.
After consulting virtually nobody, the tax office slashed this amount by announcing that employee truck drivers would now only be able to claim $55.30 per day in meal expenses without receipts.

At the same time, comparable employees in other industries had their amounts increased.

One of the highest priorities for the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) is to make sure that government agencies never treat truck drivers as second-class citizens. Our drivers are professionals and deliver the goods for Australia, and should be respected as such.

We took this argument to the tax office, and to the credit of the tax office it engaged with us, our members and other trucking industry associations.
In late October, following close consultations with the ATA and industry, the tax office fixed the problem it created. In a revised determination, the tax office reinstated its former meal-by-meal approach.

The new reasonable amounts for 2017–18 are:
Breakfast – $24.75
Lunch – $27.65
Dinner – $47.70

It is important to note that these amounts are separate and cannot be combined into a single daily amount or moved from one meal to another. The tax office has, however, accepted that some drivers eat their meals at unconventional times, depending on their work and rest hours.

This new determination means that the 38,000 truck drivers who claim expenses will be treated as professionals. An employee truck driver can claim, without detailed receipts, the same amount for meals as other comparable employees in what are called tier 2 and other country centres.

It should be emphasised that you can only claim for the amount you actually spent on a meal. If you spend $45 on dinner, you can only claim a deduction for $45 and not the full $47.70 reasonable amount. Because your claim would be within the reasonable amount, however, you do not need to keep every receipt.

The tax office has issued a fact sheet which sets out the evidence you will need to provide if you are audited: your payment summary or payslips; your work diary or other fatigue documents; and written evidence to confirm you spent the money, such as bank statements for a three-month period.

If claiming above the reasonable amounts, you will need to keep receipts for everything.
If you or your staff claim meal expenses, I urge you to grab a copy of the fact sheet and consider how it applies to you and your team. The fact sheet is available from www.ato.gov.au/truckdrivers or your ATA member association.
Now we have won the battle to treat truck drivers as professionals and overturned the slashing of meal expenses for 2017–18, the ATA will focus on the meal expense amounts for 2018–19 and beyond.

We want to work with the tax office to simplify the claiming system further. There were also a number of issues raised by our member associations and individual drivers in our consultations that could not be resolved in the urgent timeframe needed to fix the 2017–18 amounts.

I’m sometimes asked what the ATA does for truck drivers. I’m sometimes told we just stand up for the big end of town. Well, here is proof that the ATA and our member associations stand up for all our drivers and all our industry.

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