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Autism and Tax

Did you know that as a parent of a child on the Autism spectrum, you are eligible for some significant tax breaks?

According to this Article in the African Journal of Disability, the cost of raising and caring for a child with autism can reach millions of Rands.

(Disclaimer: We are not tax specialists - This article is aimed at providing general information only, and should not be seen as financial or tax advice. If you want to know more about tax and disability, please contact SARS or a registered tax consultant. Bendels Consulting is an example of a tax consultancy that specializes in disability and especially autism.)

Who qualifies for SARS’ disability tax credits?

In order to qualify for SARS' disability tax credits, your child's condition has to meet certain criteria:

  1. SARS sees a disability as a specific impairment that has a significant effect (or limitation) on their daily life.
  2. This could be a physical, sensory (visual or hearing), communication, intellectual, or mental impairment.
  3. The condition has to be long term, in other words likely to last for more than one year.
  4. The condition must have been confirmed by a relevant, registered medical practitioner.

If the effects of the condition remain moderate to severe even after the maximum amount of treatment or therapy, SARS considers it a disability. But if treatment does have some effect, it could be seen as a physical impairment rather than a disability. In this case, you may still qualify for tax credits, though not to the same extent.

For example, if your child has a visual impairment, but a pair of good glasses helps him function with only mild limitations, SARS considers his condition as a physical impairment and not a disability. But if glasses or therapy have no effect and he still struggles to perform basic tasks, that could be a disability.

What are the disability tax credits?

Disability tax credits take two forms, additional medical expenses and expenses directly related to the disability.

Additional Medical Expenses Tax Credit

There are limits to how much money taxpayers can claim back for medical expenses. When one of your dependents has a disability, the amount you can claim back is higher, up to 33% — not just for your child with the disability, but for the entire family. This could mean a significant refund at the end of the tax year. 

Expenses Directly Related to Autism

You can also deduct a portion of expenses directly related to your child’s disability from your total taxable income. This could include salaries for carers; training courses for parents; the purchase, insurance and maintenance of aids and tools; alterations to your home or car to accommodate your child’s special needs; the training and care of service animals; specialised therapy and much more (the full list from SARS can be found here).

IMPORTANT: The burden of proof is placed on you when claiming for expenses directly related to the disability! Keep a record of all expenses you claim for, with as much supporting document as possible. We’ve been audited every year since we started claiming disability tax credits and had to supply every single document.

If your child has special educational needs, there are a lot of possible deductible expenses. For example:

  • School fees: If your child goes to a special education school, you can deduct the difference between the cost of the special education school and your local government school.
  • Travel costs: If the closest special education school is more than 10 km from your home, you might be able to claim travel expenses.
  • Private tutors or facilitators: If your child needs a facilitator, these costs could also be deducted.

According to Bendels Consulting (have a look at their guide here), you can claim for:

  • Personal attendant caregiver
  • Therapies and therapeutic activities
  • Special Needs Educational Toys (yes, you heard right, we provide special needs educational toys!)
  • Assistive aids and devices
  • Training for parents and caregivers
  • Service animals
  • Modifications to a house or a vehicle
  • Insurance, maintenance, repairs and suppliers for devices and modifications
  • Travel

Bendels Consulting also mentions that, in the case where you have not claimed all variable tax relief in respect of previous tax periods, it might be possible to reopen those tax years in an effort to secure the missed relief. Specialist tax advice is recommended in this case

 How do you claim?

Step 1: Complete the form

You firstly need the SARS Confirmation of Diagnosis of Disability form, (ITR-DD) and take it to a registered medical practitioner qualified to treat your child’s disability. If you’re not sure who to speak to, ask your family doctor or paediatrician for a referral. The Neurodiversity Centre in the Western Cape is quite experienced in this field. If your child’s disability is confirmed as permanent or long-term, you only need to renew this form once every five years. If it is seen as temporary, you’ll need a new one every year.

(You don’t have to submit the form to SARS, but must be able to produce it on demand – so keep this form very safe!)

Step 2: Fill in your tax form

When the next tax filing season arrives, you’ll find these questions on your form:

“Are you, your spouse or any of your qualifying children a person with a disability?”

“If ‘Yes’, has the disability been confirmed by a duly registered medical practitioner as prescribed?”

If you’re confident that your paperwork is in order, tick yes. On e-filing, your form will now include the relevant fields where you fill in your deductions.

Example

In our case, we record every single expense that is directly related to our children’s autism. The type of expenses we have incurred because of this, include:

(Please note: We are not making any statement on whether these are allowed expenses, on whether we have claimed tax credit for these or whether SARS have approved any of these.)

  • Our children need a carer in the afternoons, as they are unable to study on their own at the school’s Aftercare facility.
  • They need extra classes at school from an external remedial teacher.
  • Our daughter had to receive additional reading lessons after school at a local reading centre.
  • We have been allowed concessions during exams at school, including writing exams on her own and a reader. We have to pay for this.
  • We attend training classes at The Neurodiversity Centre. (and we noticed that there are some parents that drive quite a long distance to attend these – another expense)
  • Our son cannot wear standard school shoes, so we buy school shoes at Green Cross.
  • We also buy seamless school socks for him as well as no-tie laces.
  • The only casual shoes he can wear are the soft Nike’s, not something we would normally buy.
  • His anxiety has created a fear of being alone in his room, so we installed a TV and Xbox above his bed so that he gets used to being alone in his room. (that actually worked!)
  • We’ve bought lots and lots of sensory toys, fidgets and tools to help them stay calm when they study or have to go somewhere they are not comfortable with.
  • Our daughter cannot stand having her hair washed, so we take her to a local salon once a week for a wash.
  • To manage their anxiety at night, we have installed additional lights all over the house that stay on during the night and more outside security lights.
  • There are fidget chair bands on all the chairs in the house. (those were added after the first trip to the emergency room for stitches after falling off a chair.)

Let’s just stop there for now – Living with a child that is on the autism spectrum becomes normalized quickly and it is easy to ignore the additional expenses you incur to make their lives more comfortable. We went through a process of looking hard at every expense and asking ourselves whether we would have incurred that expense if our kids were not on the spectrum.

The results were rather scary!