Background

Most employees are conscious about the deductions and net pay each month end. Despite such behaviour, they do not realise their net pays could be more had they claimed tax credits afforded to them in terms of the tax law. A tax credit is an amount that taxpayers can subtract from taxes owed to the government. The Finance Act (Chapter 23:04) provides for medical expense, disability, elderly and blind credits. They are granted to individuals, whether in employment or receiving trade and investment income. A person must have the ability to pay income tax to qualify for tax credits. This article focuses on medical expenses credit because we all get sick at some point. Although living and personal expenses are disregarded for tax purposes, the claiming of medical expenses deviates from this general rule. Its deduction is an international trend and is seen as a necessary expense to maintain the productive capability of the taxpayer and a production cost rather than a discretionary expense. In Zimbabwe, medical expenses credit is deductible from the tax liability of a taxpayer at the rate of one dollar for every two dollars paid (50% of cost incurred). 

Definition of medical expenses

Medical expenses are defined as essentially covering hospitalisation, treatment , ambulance , drugs and medicine costs supplied on the prescription of a medical or dental practitioner, services rendered by a medical or dental practitioner, boarding costs at hospital, nursing home, clinic, etc., cost of invalid appliances and medical contributions paid to a medical aid society.  Ambulance cost must be for an actual ambulance and not a vehicle that was conveniently used as an ambulance for that specific time.  In JF Campbell v Commissioner of Taxes J 189 an ambulance was defined, as “a vehicle or conveyance for the transportation of the sick to a place of treatment”. An invalid appliance or fitting refers to a wheelchair or any mechanically propelled vehicle specially designed and constructed for the carriage of one person suffering from a physical defect or disability or any artificial limb, leg callipers or crutch or any special fitting for the modification or adaptation of a motor vehicle, bed, bathroom or toilet to enable its use by a person suffering from a physical defect or disability including spectacles or contact lenses. The claimable cost is for purchasing, hiring, repairing, modifying or maintaining an invalid appliance or fitting.  

Medical Aid Society                              

Section 2(1) of the Income Tax Act defines a ‘medical aid society by reference to section 13(2) of the Income Tax Act. In essence a medical aid society is defined as any society or scheme which is approved by Commissioner subject to limitations or conditions determined by him if he is satisfied that it is a bona fide permanent scheme established for providing benefits to its members and dependents in respect of expenditure incurred on medical, dental, optical treatment, including prescribed treatment by a medical practitioner, drugs and the provision of medical, surgical, dental, or optical appliances and the provision of ambulance services. By implication contributions made by persons to unapproved funds or schemes are disqualified. 

Non-resident are not entitled to medical expense credit

A taxpayer who qualifies for a medical expense must be one who was ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe during the period of assessment. The definition “ordinarily resident” is found in the common law interpretation derived from previously decided cases. Cohen v CIR 13 SATC 362 defines an ordinary residence as “a person’s ordinary residence was the country to which he would naturally and as a matter of course return from his wanderings…” In the case of Levene v IRC 1928 it was held that: “if it is part of a person’s ordinary regular course of life to live in a particular place with a degree of permanence, the person must be regarded as being ordinarily resident”. In Soldier v COT 1943 SR the court in pronouncing ordinary residence held that: “the place of residence must be settled and certain, not temporary and casual”. A non-resident person is nevertheless entitled to claim credit in respect of contributions made to a medical aid society. 

Taxpayer must incur expenditure

Medical expenses must be incurred by a taxpayer in respect of himself/herself, spouse or any of his/her minor child. A minor child refers to a child under 18 years. A spouse excludes a separated person under a judicial order or written agreement or living apart from his/her wife or husband and unmaintained spouse or wife in polygamous marriage (other than the first wife). In ITC 1189 (1973) 35 SATC 155(R), living apart was construed to be separation by reason of some matrimonial discord other than for temporary reasons of an economic nature. Thus, marital status enables one to utilise the credit of his/her spouse who is unable to use it because of no sufficient tax from which to claim the tax credit. Where medical expense has been recovered from elsewhere or refunded to the person, credit is not granted. Only shortfalls and medical bills that have been borne by the taxpayer qualify.

Medical expenses of deceased

The provisions in respect of deductibility of medical expenses extend to a deceased’s estate. A tax credit in respect of medical expenses incurred before the death of the deceased shall be claimed in the tax period before the death of the deceased, even if the expenditure is settled by death of the person.

Conclusion

Employees should submit sufficient evidence to the Human Resources department/payroll administrator or personnel tasked with the responsibility of calculating and remitting the correct PAYE to ZIMRA. The documents should be in their original form i.e original invoices or receipts and retained by the employer for at least 6 years. It is a punishable offence in terms of the law to falsely claim medical expenses. This can result in penalties and in some instances prosecution for criminal charges. Next time you incur medical expenses be aware that the government pays half of that bill. Nevertheless maintaining health lifestyle carries even more weight than claiming a tax credit.