Taking on the tax office with deductive reasoning

Taking on the tax office with deductive reasoning

Prep teacher Symone Anstis. 24, of Noble Park. Photo: Joe ArmaoMEET Symone Anstis, 24, a prep teacher and Noble Park local who took on the Tax Office and had a landmark win that could pave the way for hundreds of thousands of students to claim educational expenses as a tax deduction.
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Three years ago, Ms Anstis was studying teaching at Australian Catholic University, working part time at women’s clothing store Katies and receiving income support in the form of Youth Allowance.

Like many students, she struggled to make ends meet.

On her tax return that year Ms Anstis claimed $920 for educational expenses, including textbooks, student fees and travel expenses.

She reasoned that, because the Youth Allowance was part of her income, she should be able to claim deductions on relevant costs.

In the past, the Australian Taxation Office made it clear it would not allow educational expenses to be claimed against welfare payments.

Her father, Michael Anstis, who is a qualified solicitor but does not work as a lawyer, helped her with her return and told her the Government was likely to reject her claim. But they decided it seemed fair that students be able to claim educational costs, and pushed on regardless.

The Tax Office rejected the claim, so the pair fought the case all the way to the Federal Court. “It wasn’t a lot of money but it was important — it’s quite a hard life as a student,” Ms Anstis said yesterday.

Asked if she was known for stubbornness, she laughed.

“I thought we were in the right, so I didn’t want to just let it go. Why not take on the big guys?”

In court, Mr Anstis argued that because his daughter had to be enrolled in a full-time course of study to get her assessable income of Youth Allowance, any costs incurred in the course of studying should be deductible.

In a surprise judgement this month, the Federal Court agreed, ruling that in order to meet the requirements for Youth Allowance, a student was forced to make a range of expenses that the student should be entitled to claim as tax deductions.

Tax experts say this could set a precedent for students and other recipients of welfare payments who want to claim expenses against their pensions. About 440,000 students receive Youth Allowance or Austudy, according to Government figures.

KPMG tax partner Andy Hutt believes the decision may have ramifications for students on income support and they should consider which items — such as computers or textbooks — could be most obviously connected to their income.

During his preparations, Mr Anstis studied previous Federal Court tax cases.

He said that in the past two years only a handful had been won, and those had been led by teams of senior lawyers.

Mr Anstis said his daughter had taken on the issue to make a point about social justice, not for the modest financial gain.

“This should mean that students can claim the costs of their studies — it’ll be worth about $300 or $400 to the average student,” he said.

The Tax Office may appeal against the decision.

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