The contract of employment
One principle of the Income Tax Act is that expenses can only be claimed for tax purposes if they were incurred in the production of income (refer section 17(1)(a).
In the case of employees, Inland Revenue will not easily accept any claim for expenses incurred by the employee. An employee can only claim expenses that he is required to incur in terms of his employment contract. In other words the salary you earn is dependent on you incurring certain costs so these costs are incurred in the production of income as contemplated in section 17(1)(a).
If an employer can formulate the employment contract in such a way that a pension contribution in respect of the employee’s bonus is an obligation, the employee should be able to claim that expense. If the decision is left to each employee, the employer should find that it is not possible to formulate it in the contract as an obligation. This does not mean that every employee has to have the same contract of employment. So certain employee categories or certain employees can have a special provision in their contract of employment that others do not have, to make the contribution obligatory.
The fund rules
Most fund rules provide for voluntary contributions by members. We caution to use this clause as the heading is problematic, referring to ‘voluntary’. As pointed out above, the word ‘voluntary’ means it cannot be an obligatory contribution by the employee and would thus not be incurred as a condition of employment for the purpose of producing income from employment.
It is important that the rules of the fund mirror the employee’s employment contract. Thus, if a contribution calculated on a member’s bonus is a condition of employment, it should not be referred to as ‘voluntary contribution’ in the fund’s rules.
The Income Tax Act on fund contributions
The definition of ‘pension fund’ in sub-section (b)(i) requires that the rules of a fund provide that ‘…all annual contributions of a recurrent nature of the fund shall be in accordance with specified scales…’. The definition of ‘provident fund’ lays down the same requirement. Typically, this refers to the contribution percentages at which members contribute on a monthly basis. The definitions do not make any reference to any other contributions.
Section 17 of the IT Act deals with ‘General deductions allowed in determination of taxable income’. Section 17(1)(n)(i), sets out that the employee may deduct ‘…by way of current contributions [which are required to be in accordance with specified scales per definition of ‘pension fund’ and ‘provident fund’] in the year of assessment and directs that ‘…such contribution is a condition of employment…’ The IT Act contains no other specific provision that allows any deduction for contributions to a pension fund, and here we do not refer to a transfer of accumulated contributions to another fund.
As set out above, the principle of the IT Act militates against an employee deducting any expense that he was not required to incur in the production of income [and that can only be achieved through the contract of employment].
This sets out the dilemma of employers or funds wanting to allow staff to make additional contributions to their fund and indicates what route the employer and the fund should take to achieve their goal of having employees contribute to the fund in respect of their bonus.
We would caution employers and funds though not to create an impression towards employees that voluntary contributions are tax deductible, or worse, to offset voluntary contributions from an employee’s salary in determining the taxable income unless you have obtained comfort that Inland Revenue will allow these as a deduction for tax purposes.
Important notice and disclaimer
This article summarises the understanding, observation and notes of the author and lays no claim on accuracy, correctness or completeness. Retirement Fund Solutions Namibia (Pty) Ltd does not accept any liability for the content of this contribution and no decision should be taken on the basis of the information contained herein before having confirmed the detail with the relevant party. Any views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Retirement Fund Solutions.