Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ceisteanna (42, 61)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

42. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Finance if consideration has been given to the tax reliefs currently available for those working from home; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26654/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

61. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Finance if consideration has been given to the tax reliefs currently available for remote working; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26655/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (10 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Finance)

House-hunters are returning to their native counties as they turn their backs on city living and take advantage of remote working. That will have a significant knock-on benefit in terms of housing pressure and demand in Dublin. Properties with home office potential are being snapped up around the country. Seamus Carthy, a neighbour of mine in County Roscommon, has 43 potential buyers on a waiting list for homes with garden space. However, direction and support from the Government are needed if this is going to happen.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 61 together.

The 2020 programme for Government contains several commitments related to working from home, the responsibility for which falls to my Department. There is also a commitment to the development of a "national remote working strategy", and to that end a remote working strategy group has been established. A number of issues are being considered as relevant to these commitments, the results of which will be made public in due course.

In terms of the current tax treatment of the costs associated with working from home, I would note that any such costs incurred wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the business by an employer may be deducted by the employer in the normal course of calculating the tax liability of the employer's business.

From the perspective of the individual employee, there is no specific tax credit available to employees where they work from home. The consideration of the introduction of any such credit would need to balance a number of factors, including issues of equity, noting that not every worker is able to work remotely or from home for a variety of reasons, including the nature of his or her work and the nature of his or her home environment.

I am advised by Revenue that where e-workers incur certain extra expenditure in the performance of their duties of employment remotely or from home, such as additional heating and electricity costs, there is a Revenue administrative practice in place that allows an employer to make payments of up to €3.20 per day to such employees, subject to certain conditions, without deducting PAYE, PRSI, or USC. I am advised that Revenue has published detailed guidance on these arrangements in its tax and duty manual, which may be found on the Revenue website.

The Minister talks about the issue of equity but there is not much equity for those young couples who are on the housing ladder trying to get a house in Dublin at present. There is not much equity for families who are spending hours sitting in traffic or queuing to try and get childcare places. We have a situation where we have the schools, the childcare facilities and streets that have not seen a child kick a ball on them for a generation across rural communities and there is an opportunity here to achieve a balance where pressure is being taken off the infrastructure in Dublin and life is being brought back into rural communities. There needs to be a concerted positive effort in terms of the tax code to support either people to work remotely or blended working.

It sounds, from the way the Deputy introduced the question, that there is already much demand in the homes that he referred to and the Deputy has that work well under way already. How could I not be aware of so many more people now working from home? Of course, they are making the choice regarding where that home will be located. There are supports available within the tax code for this already. Of course, in the context of the budget, this is something that we will re-examine.

I would make the point though that we need balance in all of this. With our continued efforts to look after the health of our country, I believe we need to find a safe way over time in which we can encourage those who want to work in offices to be able to go back into their offices where they were located and, as the Deputy has said, for those who either do not want to do it or whose employer says they do not need to do it, a way in which working from home can be sustainable. This is an issue of much debate among families as they look at what 2021 could bring, but we need to get the balance right.

I will pick up on the Minister's last point. There is a reference attributed to him in the Sunday newspapers where he is privately concerned about the amount of empty office space across Dublin and elsewhere as employees are encouraged to work from home. I would be concerned that this could be a vehicle used to undermine the objective of blended working and remote working to shore up the pension funds - pension funds that could convert this office space into housing accommodation to meet the needs of people in the city of Dublin.

There is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to support remote and blending working but it needs leadership from Government. We should set an objective within Government to have one third of our employees working from home or a remote location within the next five years.

I support remote working. Previously, I asked the Minister about our financial services strategy and making sure that we are focusing on jobs outside of Dublin.

Picking up on Deputy Naughten's point, we are looking at a long-term impact on the city centre where people may not be returning to work, at least five days a week, and a permanent reduction in footfall. There is an opportunity for existing developments which may have been for one purpose, that is, office space, to become something else and therefore support the economy locally here in Dublin city centre which continues to be damaged because of the more permanent changes that people are making in their working lives.

I am not privately concerned about the prospects of offices being empty for the foreseeable future. I am publicly concerned about it. Looking at where we are now across September and October, a time in which many new employees are starting work in new employers throughout the country, for example, for them not to have the opportunity to be able to go into an office to sit with peers and learn from them and for them not to have the opportunity of the normal ways of developing skills and developing their careers is something that I am concerned about. I am also concerned about what it could mean if we prolong a reality of many people working from home and not being able to access the kind of skill development and knowledge that happens when they are sitting near and working with other colleagues.

However, that is not as inconsistent with the Deputy's view as he might infer. I am simply saying that we have to get the balance right. What is beneficial about where we are now is we have relearned that certain kinds of work can be done in more places than we thought possible. Of course, as the Deputy has said, where possible, there may well be opportunities for that to happen outside of our cities. However, this is not a Dublin-specific comment. It is a comment about the well-being and the future development of workers, particularly those who are in the early phase of their careers because the development of their skills and well-being is at the heart of how our economy can grow in the future.

We will move to Question No. 44.

I have time for one more intervention. There were two questions grouped. I am glad that the Minister clarified that. It is important that we try to get the balance right and that we look at blended employment.

I can confirm for the Minister that there is demand, but it is only a drip at present. That could be progressed along the lines Deputy Murphy spoke about. We need to look, and we are looking as part of the pre-budget submission that I forwarded to the Ministers, at developing an initiative similar to the bike-to-work scheme to encourage people to work from home or adapt their home to meet the demand and facilitate the national broadband plan as it is being delivered throughout the country. In the context of the budget, I would hope that the Minister can come forward with some constructive proposals to support this drip that is happening so that we have a greater balance of people moving out to rural communities while at the same time providing much-needed accommodation in this city.

I take the Deputy's point. That is the kind of balance we need to try to move to, where we have offices being used in a way that is different from how they were used in the past but have people in them who are learning, who are healthy and who are safe.

The most important priority is to try to keep people safe and try to reduce the spread of this disease. That is why our public health efforts are so important. As we move through our battle with this disease, I hope we will come up with ways in which it will be safe for large employers to have more of their staff in the office more of the time than is the case at present. That is so important from a skills, productivity and well-being point of view. However, we can genuinely do what the Deputy is outlining at the same time as trying to make progress on what I am referring to.

Question No. 43 replied to with Written Answers.