Can I Get A Tax Deduction For My Website?

Your Business Website: Are The Costs Deductible? - 26 July 2018

Can I Get A Tax Deduction For My Website

Setting up, maintaining and modifying a business website can involve significant costs.

When considering whether spending related to a website is tax deductible, business owners need to consider Taxation Ruling TR 2016/3, which sets out the Commissioner of Taxation’s views.

The Ruling discusses the deductibility of expenditure on a commercial website. It is a significant ruling that has the potential to affect every business in Australia that has a website.

The first issue the ruling addresses is to identify what qualifies as a “commercial website”. The Commissioner’s view is that a commercial website is one used in the course of a business, irrespective of whether it is used directly to produce income.

The ruling explains that such a website is an intangible asset of the business, consisting of software installed on a server or servers and connected to the internet. Software provided on the website for installation on the user’s device is not considered part of the website, but the content available on that website is part of the website (unless the content has an independent value to the business). Hardware, such as a business server or computer and the right to use the domain name, are not considered part of the website.

In terms of how expenditure on a commercial website is treated, the website is not a depreciating asset, except to the extent it can be classified as “in-house software”. Accordingly, the ruling focuses on the deductibility of expenditure under the general deduction provision of the income tax law. Under this provision, tax deductibility depends on whether the expenditure is revenue or capital in nature. Revenue expenditure is generally deductible immediately (when incurred), while capital expenditure may be deductible over a number of years (as depreciation), subject to certain rules.

The ruling explains the treatment of a range of common types of business website expenditure, including:

  • acquiring or developing a website: this type of expenditure is capital in nature and so not deductible immediately;
  • maintaining a website: this expenditure is revenue in nature, and includes expenditure on modifying the website, as long as the modifications do not alter the website’s functionality, improve its efficiency or extend its useful life (in which case the expenditure may be capital instead) – this capital/revenue distinction is a matter of “fact and degree” according to the ruling; spending on a routine modification with minor enhancements is more likely to be considered revenue, but spending on substantial modifications or changes as part of a program of work is more likely to be considered capital;
  • periodic operating, registration, web hosting and licensing fees: this type of expenditure is deductible over the period the expense relates to (g. a year’s hosting fees are deductible over that 12 months);
  • software: if the software qualifies as “in-house software”, special depreciation rules apply, but if it is not “in-house software”, the expenditure’s tax treatment depends on the nature of the asset – the ruling states that the cost of periodically licensed “off-the-shelf” software is a revenue expense; and
  • regular upgrades to existing website software: this type of expenditure is generally considered “operational” in nature and is therefore deductible.

Under the ruling, a business’s social media presence is a capital asset, and separate from the business’s website, but if the cost of setting up the presence (e.g. a profile page) is trivial and the profile is maintained mainly for marketing, the expenditure is revenue in nature. The Commissioner’s views on other considerations are also set out, including the cost of domain names, the cost of leasing a website, and the possibly depreciable status of any copyright held by the website owner.

Although labour costs are usually on revenue account, they may be of a capital nature if there is a direct link between the employee or contractor in question and a capital asset, for example, where the employee or contractor is engaged to develop a business website.

Finally, if expenditure on a commercial website is not deductible under outright or the capital allowances rules (i.e. depreciation), then the capital gains tax (CGT) regime will recognise it as part of the cost base of a CGT asset. It is unlikely that a deduction will be available under the “blackhole expenditure” provisions.

Need to know more?

The ruling makes it clear there are plenty of factors to consider when establishing if you can claim the costs of setting up and running a website for your business. If you want to know more, contact us to talk about how the ruling could affect your business’s tax deductions for expenditure on your website and other social media.

16 November 2017

For expert advice and assistance in dealing with your Business Tax Deductions in Australia, please contact Mathews Tax Lawyers on 1800 685 829

Disclaimer: The information on this page is for general information purposes only and is not specific to any particular person or situation. There are many factors that may affect your particular circumstances. We advise that you contact Mathews Tax Lawyers before making any decisions.

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