On Her Majesty's Web-Based Workforce

With Gordon Brown‘s fiscal reputation following Dubya‘s own battered rep into a swirling black hole of oil prices and crunchy credit, it’s heartening to know that (sometimes) Her Majesty’s government can still do its subjects a few financial favours here in Blighty.

A couple of weeks ago, the UK’s tax authority – Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs Service – announced a number of measures that may benefit Britain’s web workers, and more broadly, any Brits working from home.

Those working from home whom have a portion of their residence setup as a dedicated work area or office can claim that portion as a tax rebate. Also, they no longer have to pay capital gains tax on the sale of their home.

As generous and farsighted as the HMRC’s change of heart might seem, some close examination of the conditions under which these rebates can be claimed underlines how little the UK government understands about the nature of web workers in particular. Notable, in the BBC’s report are the following provisos…

HMRC are content to allow a proportion of these costs to be claimed against the income of the business if certain criteria are met, such as:

  • The area of the home is used exclusively for business purposes for a prescribed amount of time – say, 9am to 5pm – this means that if you sit at the kitchen table working you won’t qualify for the additional deductions. What the taxman is looking for is an area that has the appearance of an office – so it will contain a desk, chair, storage etc.
  • The amount claimed is reasonable in relation to the business – so you can’t claim that you work 20 hours a day in the office or that the area used is a large proportion of the living area of your home.

Apart from these two provisos, you will be able to claim a percentage of the total cost of running the home.

Ooops – nobody asked the web workers!
To the first proviso, one of the advantages of working from home is the physical flexibility granted to the worker; personally I don’t have a dedicated office – sometimes I work in the dining room, the lounge, family room and even the conservatory. It’s difficult to understand why HMRC are insisting on dedicated work areas and offices in the home, when its the nature, time and intensity of work that’s a more important measurable factor than location.

To the second point, again flexibility is key, in that workers dip in and out of work and domestic tasks often in the same physical space – it’s one of the reasons we work from home!

Still many of the examples given by the HMRC are illustrative and useful and the mortgate rebates are pretty generous. Though web workers represent only a proportion of those who work from home and laws need to be formulated for broad groups, it’s frustrating that the views of web workers weren’t more keenly understood – even consulted as a group – before such important legislation was completed. On the other hand, where would the UK government go to elicit the views of this community?

Web Workers Unite!
What this tells me, alongside my previous thoughts on commuting and coworking, is that web workers need to represent themselves more confidently, ensuring their unqiue perspectives are heard and noted by our politicians. As a group we’re on the bleeding edge of working practices, often at the forefront of civic and social change, but we have a responsibility as citizens to bring those experiences and passions to the attention of our politicians.

As James Bond swore an oath On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, perhaps we all need to declare some principles for Her Majesty’s Web-based Workforce!

Could WebWorkerDaily – who’s brand and iconography alludes to collectivism –  be a platform to help groups organise and represent themselves to legislators and politicans more confidently and muscularly in their localities? Should we be doing more activism as a group to influence monetary, social and civic policies?

What are your thoughts?

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