Tell the taxman he’s dreaming Heath Gilmore and Dan Harrison
November 12, 2010 A RECEPTIONIST handed a sealed envelope to Symone Anstis, 25, and her father, Michael, with a smile. It contained news potentially worth more than $80 million. For the past four years the Anstis family had been fighting the Tax Office through every legal jurisdiction. Yesterday, on the 17th floor of the Law Courts Building in Melbourne, their dispute ended with the opening of the envelope. The letter contained a landmark ruling by the High Court that Ms Anstis was entitled to claim $920 as self-education expenses. Advertisement: Story continues below The court determined her youth allowance payments as a student were assessable and expenses incurred in gaining that income were deductible. It means hundreds of thousands of students receiving a youth allowance are eligible to claim educational expenses as a tax deduction, and experts say the federal government faces losing more than $80 million in revenue. Even worse for the Tax Office, claims can be made on education expenses up to four years old, despite an earlier return being lodged. ”Finally, it’s over,” said Ms Anstis, a primary school teacher in Melbourne. ”Never, ever in my wildest dreams did I intend this claim to be such a long process. ”I’ll only get $300 and will put it on the credit card. It was always about the principle. It’s been fun but I am glad it’s over and [I want to] focus on teaching, which I love.” Ms Anstis said the legal fight was driven by the need to make a point about social justice, not for the modest financial gain. In 2006 she was enrolled as a full-time student in a teaching degree at the Australian Catholic University. In that income year she earned $14,946 in wages as a part-time sales assistant and $3622 youth allowance. She believed she was entitled to a $920 deduction for education expenses, comprising depreciation on a computer, textbooks and stationery, a student administration fee, supplies for children during her teaching rounds, and travel expenses other than to university. Her father, a solicitor, helped with the return but told her the government was likely to reject the claim. But they decided it seemed fair that students could claim educational costs. The Tax Office rejected the claim so the pair appealed the case all the way to a Federal Court victory. The Full Federal Court dismissed an appeal by the commissioner of taxation. The Tax Office lodged a final appeal which the High Court dismissed yesterday. ”This should mean that students can claim the costs of their studies,” Mr Anstis said. ”It’ll be worth about $300 or $400 to the average student. ”I don’t know what the moral is to the story. It’s a series of events which sucked you in further. It becomes all-consuming. We just kept thinking we have put in so much effort we can’t let go now.” In its brief to the incoming government in September, the Treasury warned of ”significant budget implications” if the High Court denied the Tax Office’s appeal, as potentially several hundred thousand Youth Allowance recipients and possibly other income support recipients, would be entitled to claim deductions. The Assistant Treasurer, Bill Shorten, said yesterday that the Tax Office would analyse the judgment and produce a decision impact statement, which would state the commissioner of taxation’s position and how the law would be administered as a consequence of the decision. The Tax Office urged people who believed they might be affected by the ruling to be patient.