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28 July, 2022 - 5 min read

Mileage reimbursement rules for employers

Learn about the rules for employers and business owners with regards to reimbursing employees for business accrued car expenses and best practices for your company’s reimbursement programme.

If you are looking to find out more about the Australian car expense reimbursement method from the employee standpoint, read our guide on car expense reimbursement for employees.

So, do you have to reimburse your employees?

That depends. If your employees fall under a modern award or enterprise agreement the business would be required to pay out car expense reimbursements. Even if they don’t, it can be beneficial to your business to do so, as you’ll be able to claim the expenses as a tax deduction at the end of the financial year.

How to reimburse employees for business car expenses

There are two main methods for reimbursing employees in Australia, and the choice falls upon your business. Read on to see what the different methods entail and which would be better for your business.

The two most common car expense reimbursement methods are:

  • Motor vehicle cents per kilometre
  • Car allowance

Motor vehicle cents per km

Each year, the ATO sets a standard rate for deducting business-related car expenses from a tax return - the “cents per kilometre” rate. The rate covers all costs associated with driving one’s own car for business purposes, including ownership and operating costs. The rate represents the highest amount per km you can reimburse employees and still get a full tax deduction for your business.

The same goes for your employees: If they are reimbursed at the standard cents per km rate, they do not pay tax off of the reimbursement. Other methods of covering employee car expenses may be treated as income and taxed.

As an employer, you are not bound by the motor vehicle cents per km rate. The one set by the ATO is advisory and you can choose to instead reimburse employees at a higher or lower than the ATO rate.

The motor vehicle cents per km reimbursement rate is normally paid out to employees after the fact, e.g. after employees submit last month’s log of the business trips they have taken.

Car allowance in Australia

Another common method in Australia is to pay out a car allowance. The allowance is often paid upfront, on a monthly basis. This method is used to replace the need for the business to provide company cars.

Employees can use the car allowance to lease or purchase a car if they don’t have one, or maintain their current vehicle. It is a great alternative to the cents per km method for ensuring employees have cash on hand for any car associated costs, such as lease payments or maintenance.

Car allowance in Australia is treated as income by the ATO and should appear on employees’ paychecks. The allowance is then taxed according to the employees’ income tax bracket.

Employees are still able to claim a tax deduction on their annual tax return for the business-related car expenses they’ve accrued throughout the year, using the cents per km or logbook method.

Your business can claim a tax deduction for reimbursement of employee expenses

If an employee is reimbursed for using their personal vehicle for work, your business can claim a deduction for any car allowances or reimbursements you pay.

If an employee is using a company car and they are also able to use that car for personal purposes, you might be asked to show how the reimbursed expenses are connected to your business, and you may need to pay a fringe benefits tax (which is also tax-deductible).

Best practices for your car expenses reimbursement programme

To keep things simple, many companies use an app for mileage tracking and most use the ATO’s standard cents per km rate. It saves time for employees who no longer have to manually keep mileage logs, and administratively it's the easiest solution. Using an app also helps your company avoid over-reported mileage claims, while making sure your employees get what they're entitled to.

Of course, the best mileage reimbursement programme is also compliant with ATO requirements. Read on to see what that means for you and your employees.

You need to record business travel accurately

Whether your business is set up as a sole trader, a joint partnership, or a company, it is crucial to accurately record work mileage - and to be able to keep it separate from any personal travel using the same car or cars.

Depending on which method you use to calculate your work-related car expenses, you will generally need to keep the following records:

  • Details of the kilometres travelled for business and private use
  • Any fuel, oil, repair, servicing, or insurance receipts
  • Registration papers
  • If relevant, any loan or lease documents
  • Any relevant tax invoices
  • Details of how you calculated your claim

This means that both you and your employees - at least, those who are being reimbursed for work-related car expenses - must keep records that are updated frequently to ensure their accuracy.

Can I reimburse all my employees the same way?

Not necessarily. If different employee roles are covered by different enterprise agreements or modern awards, the requirements may change. However, unless those agreements or awards require a higher rate of reimbursement, the ATO cents per km rate provides a standard method to reimburse work-related car expenses for all employees.

FAQ

In simple terms, business-related driving is when you or employees drive from one place of business to another. For example, you travel between work sites and meetings. Running to the post office or bank, stopping by the store for office supplies, and attending a conference or a meeting in another company's office all are considered work-related kilometres.
According to the ATO, commuting is not considered work-related driving, but a personal expense. This means you should not provide a cents per km rate for their daily commute unless you choose to provide such a benefit separate from the cents per km rate.

How to automate your mileage logbook

Manually filling out your logbook can get tedious - see how to automatically track trips for your mileage reimbursement or deductions.

This material has been prepared for general informational purposes only, and should not be taken as professional advice from Driversnote. You should consider seeking independent legal, taxation, or financial advice from a professional to check how this information relates to your own circumstances. Relevant laws also change from time to time.