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Help Sheet

Volunteers and the GST

Organisations depend upon volunteers to maintain services. How will volunteers and organisations largely staffed by volunteers be affected by the introduction of the GST?

Written by the ATO Principle

In most cases charities, if registered, will be able to claim input tax credits for the GST paid on creditable acquisitions used in making taxable or GST-free supplies. No GST is payable on volunteered labour. Volunteers may need to be trained to meet the organisations' GST responsibilities.

The Input tax credit for employee reimbursements

From 1 July 2000, if you are an employer and are registered for GST, you may be entitled to an input tax credit for the amounts you reimburse employees for their expenses.

You will be entitled to claim the input tax credit even though there are no employer details on the documents (such as receipts or tax invoices) that the employee provides to substantiate their claim for reimbursement.

When can you claim the input tax credit?

If you are an employer and are registered for GST, you can claim an input tax credit for reimbursed employee expenses if:

  • Your employee incurred the expense in activities directly related to their employment
  • GST was payable when the employee incurred the expense
  • The employee is not entitled to an input tax credit for the expense you are reimbursing
  • The expense is not listed as a non-deductible expense.

(For information on non-deductible expenses, phone the Tax Reform Infoline on 13 24 78.)

What is a reimbursement?

You can claim the input tax credit where you reimburse an employee but not where you pay an employee an allowance.

You make a reimbursement when you compensate an employee an exact amount for a specific purpose. If you reimburse an employee for a proportion of a purchase it may also be considered a reimbursement.

You can reimburse an employee for an expense they have incurred but not yet paid for. For example, you may reimburse an employee for a credit card purchase before they have paid their bill.

If you provide an employee with money for expenses they have not yet incurred, and the employee has to repay you any amount they do not use, you are considered to be reimbursing the employee.

Which reimbursements can you claim for?

You are only entitled to an input tax credit where you reimburse an employee for an expense that is directly related to their duties as an employee. For example, if you pay for an employee's holiday, you are not reimbursing an expense that directly relates to their activities as an employee and cannot claim an input tax credit.


Helen employs Lee in her small software consultancy in Melbourne. She asks Lee to attend a business conference in Brisbane.

Helen tells Lee that she will cover his expenses up to a maximum of $ 500. He will have to provide tax invoices for expenses of $ 55 or more, and receipts for expenses of less than $ 55.

Helen gives Lee $ 500 in advance. When Lee returns from the conference he provides tax invoices for $ 350 and repays Helen $ 150. (All Lee's receipts were in the form of tax invoices.) Helen has reimbursed Lee's expenses, so she is entitled to claim an input tax credit for any GST included in the price of the goods and services he paid for.

What is an allowance?

If you pay an employee an amount to cover an estimated expense, and the employee does not have to repay any amount they do not spend, you are generally paying an allowance.


Helen asks Lee to go to Brisbane to attend another conference. This time she pays him a travel allowance of $ 450.

Helen does not ask Lee to keep any receipts, but when he returns he gives her tax invoices for $ 350. He does not have to repay any of the $ 450 that he did not spend.

Helen has not reimbursed Lee's expenses. She has paid him an allowance. She is not entitled to an input tax credit for his expenses, regardless of the tax invoices she asked him to provide.

What if an employee spends more than their allowance?

If the employee spends more than their allowance they have been given, and the employer pays the employee the amount they have overspent, the whole payment is still considered an allowance. This applies even if the employee is required to account for the extra expenditure with receipts or tax invoices.


Helen asks her employee Linda to go to Sydney for a conference. She pays Linda a travel allowance of $ 450. Linda will not need to repay any of the allowance that she does not spend but she will have to provide receipts for her expenses. Helen tells Linda that she will top up the allowance if she needs to spend more than $450.

When she returns, Linda gives Helen tax invoices for $550 and Helen pays her an additional $ 100.

The whole $ 550 ($ 450 plus the additional $100) is an allowance. Helen is not entitled to any input tax credit in relation to Linda's expenses.

What about payment for notional expenses?

If you make a payment to an employee based on a notional (rather than actual) expenses, you are not making a reimbursement.

For example, if you make a cents per kilometre payment to cover work-related use of an employees private car, you are paying an allowance, not making a reimbursement. You are not entitled to claim an input tax credit.


Syd uses his car on a regular basis for work purposes. His employer, Mel, requires Syd to keep a record and pays him a monthly amount based on the engine size of Syd's car and the number of kilometres he travel for work purposes.

Mel is not making a reimbursement and is not entitled to an input tax credit.

Specific Questions and Answers

  1. Are there GST implications when a hospital supplies its volunteers with meals?

    Where the supply of the meal is not directly linked to the provision of the volunteer labour, namely there is no pre existing agreement or understanding that the volunteer will receive a meal in return for their labour the supply of the meal would not be subject to GST as there is no consideration for the supply. However, where the meal is supplied as part of an agreement or understanding the hospital has with its volunteers it is a supply for consideration in that the volunteer provides labour which is in part consideration for the meal. In this case the hospital would have to remit 1/11 of the GST inclusive market value of the meal as GST.

    If the organisation supplying the meal is not registered for GST, that organisation would pay GST to the supplier in relation to the inputs purchased to prepare the meal and would not charge GST.

    If the organisation supplying the meal is a charitable institution and the cost to the purchaser is less than 50 percent of the GST inclusive market value or 75 percent of the cost of supply then the meal would be GST-free.

    Meals provided by such organisations as "Meals on Wheels" to the aged and disabled as part of community care will be GST-free.

  2. Is GST payable on uniforms if:
    • The charity buys the uniform?
    • The charity asks the recipient to make a contribution towards the cost of making the uniform that is less than 50% of the market value?
    • The charity sells the uniform to the recipient?

    If a registered supplier makes a taxable supply of uniforms to a charity, then the price must include GST. The charity (if registered) is entitled to a credit of the GST paid if it buys the uniforms in carrying on its enterprise.

    Where a recipient makes a contribution which is less than 50% of the GST inclusive market value of the uniform, the supply of the uniform by the charity is GST-free.

    If a registered charity sells the uniform to the recipient for a price that is 50% or more of the market value of the uniform, the price to the recipient must include GST.

  3. Will the expenses which organisations incur to support their volunteer workforce be treated as legitimate input tax credits?

    If charities are registered and they pay GST on acquisitions to support their volunteer workforce they will be entitled to input tax credits on those acquisitions.

  4. There will be an increase in "out of pocket" expenses for volunteers. As volunteers are not entities they cannot claim input tax credits. How will this be treated?

    111-18 has been added to the legislation to enable a charity to claim input tax credits for reimbursements to volunteers of expenses. These expenses must be directly related to the charitable activities of the charity.

  5. Are payments made by way of honorariums, such as guest speakers, be subject to GST?

    Payments made to a guest speaker who is registered will be subject to GST where the activities are made in respect of the speaker's enterprise.

  6. Will GST apply to contractors who are employed by a charitable or not-for-profit organisation? If so, would it therefore be better for organisations to hire on a permanent basis?

    Contractor services are subject to GST and the entity is entitled to input tax credits. Organisations will need to consider whether to employ or use contractors, based on their own circumstances, the services required and balancing these with the costs associated with maintaining employees.

  7. Do psychologists and social workers in government funded services have the same status as private professionals?

    Where the psychology and social work is provided by a recognised professional and is recognised as being necessary as appropriate treatment then the supply would be GST-free. The supply of psychology and social work services are specifically covered by section 38-10.

  8. Is a charity (or other non-profit body) required to deduct the 48.5% withholding tax from payments made to volunteers to reimburse them for their expenses (such as petrol money)?

    The ATO is currently preparing a fact sheet on the issue.

Our Community Pty Ltd   www.ourcommunity.com.au   ABN 24 094 608 705
National Headquarters: 51 Stanley St, West Melbourne Victoria 3003 Australia
(PO Box 354 North Melbourne 3051 Victoria)
Telephone (03) 9320 6800   Email service@ourcommunity.com.au