What exactly has changed?
Until the end of 2020, staff received a fixed amount covering their commuting expenses, which, depending on how many days per week they worked and what distance their home was from their workplace, could be up to €100 per month. The allowance continued even when there were no travel expenses for work, for example during holiday trips or when an employee would cycle to work. Also during the corona crisis, when most staff members worked from home, the fixed allowance continued, with the blessing of the Tax Administration, partly to compensate for the extra expenses made at home.
This fixed-amount allowance has been scrapped. From now on, employees will only be reimbursed for those days on which they actually travel to the campus. They are still eligible for a mileage allowance, which will give them 19 cents for each kilometre travelled, up to a maximum of 30 kilometres per day. The old allowance covering travel expenses incurred on public transport is replaced by an NS business plan, for which the university will be invoiced directly. However, reimbursements for employees who commute by public transport will continue to be capped at €250 per month for full-time workers. If you are interested in an NS business plan, please apply for one through the HR department.
Furthermore, staff are required to keep track in the employee portal of when they work on campus and when they work from home. At present, everyone is recorded in the staff portal as working from home 100 percent. Even if you plan to continue working from home for the time being, you are requested to notify the HR department of this fact. After that, you will only have to record your status in the portal when it changes.
Why is this changing?
In late September the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration decided that, effective from 1 January 2021, it would no longer be possible for employers to give their employees a tax-free travel allowance for days on which they actually worked from home – a phenomenon that has become very common lately due to the coronavirus restrictions. Until this year, employees were given a mileage allowance (whose amount depended on the distance between their home and their workplace) or had their public transport expenses reimbursed, with the minimum amount reimbursed depending on the journey distance and the type of employment contract, and with the maximum amount capped at €250 per month for full-time employees. By now the Tax and Customs Administration has postponed the entry into force of the stricter regulations until 1 February, but the university is sticking to the effective date of 1 January.
Can I still get my travel expenses reimbursed if I unexpectedly come to campus on a day I’d said I’d be working from home?
Yes, you will still be eligible for that reimbursement. You can retroactively edit the days on which you worked from home and the days on which you commuted to work in the portal in the next month and so have your travel expenses reimbursed after the fact.
Can I only use my NS business plan on journeys between my home and my workplace, or can I also use it for, say, business trips in the Netherlands?
You can use your plan to commute from home to work and vice versa and for other business trips. You can use your plan on buses, trams and metro trains as well as on regular trains. However, you are not allowed to use it to pay for door-to-door services, such as OV bikes (bikes hired from railway stations), taxis or the NS cycle park. Nor are you allowed to use it for non-business-related trips.
What about the monthly cap on commuting expenses reimbursements? Will the monthly amount reimbursed be raised because the NS business plan is more expensive than NS’s off-peak season ticket?
Although public transport fares have risen by approximately 10 percent in the last five years, the cap on reimbursed commuting expenses has remained the same in all those years: €250 for employees on a full-time contract. The NS business plan allows you to travel during off-peak travel times (i.e. all day on weekends, and before 6.30am, between 9am and 4pm and after 6.30 pm on weekdays) with a 40% discount. The university and NS will evaluate the arrangement in six months. If it is found then that a different type of plan will be more cost-effective, the NS business plan will be adjusted accordingly. However, the university expects costs to remain low for the time being because most people currently work from home due to the pandemic.
But didn’t the university say that it would continue to pay its employees the travel allowance to compensate us for the expenses we are incurring at home due to working from home because of the pandemic?
It is true that this is why the Tax and Customs Administration initially allowed the allowance to continue to be paid, but it was never meant to be a permanent arrangement. Naturally, people working from home incur additional costs, such as heating, coffee, office supplies, Internet connection and telephone. The university has already raised the amount it will reimburse to cover employees’ Internet connection costs, and also implemented a scheme in 2020 allowing employees to use their personal career budget to purchase items for their home offices, such as a monitor or a proper office chair. The new collective agreement for university personnel is currently being negotiated. One of the subjects being discussed is a general allowance for staff working from home.