Back to the office: How to cope with all of the financial headaches and costs of the great return

With tomorrow marking the beginning of the phased return to the office, many workers are in for a big adjustment. For those returning to the office for the first time in a year-and-a-half, big costs and financial dilemmas await.

o as you return to the office, what financial headaches and costs can you expect – and how best can you tackle them?

The ‘biggie’ office bills

Some of the biggest bills faced by workers returning to the office include childcare fees and commuting costs. Do what you can to keep these costs in check. Take advantage of the Taxsaver scheme (where tax relief reduces the cost of your ticket) if using public transport. Check if any Taxsaver ticket bought during the pandemic is still valid. Be aware that a Taxsaver ticket may not be as tax-efficient for you if you only return to the office for a few days a week – rather than full-time. Those with hybrid working weeks (where some days are worked in the office and some at home) should therefore do the maths and check if a Taxsaver ticket will save them money before buying.

Use the cheapest mode of public transport available to you. Get a Leap card too as this will ensure you can get the cheapest public transport fares.

Those driving to work should use an electric car or hybrid if driving as this should save on running costs – but make sure the car you choose is practical for your commute. Otherwise, choose a fuel-efficient car.

“If you can, car pool, get a bike or use public transport,” said Karen O’Reilly, founder of Employflex.

Be sure to claim tax back under the cycle-to-work scheme if getting a new bike.

Cutting the cost of childcare is likely to be trickier – given the shortage of places. However, check if you’re entitled to any discounts (such as sibling or corporate discounts), shop around, get the free two years pre-school you’re entitled to under the Early Childhood Care and Education scheme and apply for any National Childcare Scheme subsidies you’re eligible for.

“As you return to the office, be more aware of your daily spend,” said O’Reilly. “Bring a packed lunch and  your own coffee. If your workplace is very regimented with clothes, put in a request that you be allowed to wear more casual attire in the office.”

Right to a free parking space?

You may be considering driving to work – rather than getting public transport – because you’re nervous about catching Covid on a bus, tram or train, particularly during crowded rush hour. It’s worth asking your boss if you can get a car parking space in work if this is the case – though be aware that your employer is under no obligation to provide you with one. “Being nervous about getting on a bus is not grounds for having a car parking space at work,” said Richard Grogan, employment law solicitor with Richard Grogan & Associates.

The only situation where your boss may have to provide you with a car parking space is if you have a disability, according to Grogan. “Your boss must make reasonable accommodation for you if you have a disability – and this may include a car parking spot,” said Grogan. You may also be able to make a case for a car parking space in work if you are immunocompromised.

Those not entitled to a car parking space in work will need to budget for parking charges – should they opt to drive to the office. Parking charges add up – you could pay up to €40 a day to park in Dublin city and around €30 a day to park in Cork city. For example, it costs €36 to park from 9am to 6pm on a weekday in Q-Park Dawson Street, Dublin (if paying by the hour), €25 a day to park in Euro Car Parks in Dublin’s Convention Centre and €29 to park for up to eight hours in Q-Park City Hall, Cork. Shop around for your parking so you secure the cheapest possible option. For example, you can park for €15 per working day in St Mark’s Church near Trinity College Dublin.

It could cost less to get a weekly, monthly or quarterly rate for your car parking than to pay by the hour. You may also get a cheaper rate if you pre-book. Those working in Dublin and other big cities may be able to find free parking in the suburbs – though this may be outside someone’s home so be sure you’re not hogging another person’s car parking space if you opt for this.

You can avoid car parking charges altogether if you can cycle or take an electric scooter to work.

Check pension scheme is the same 

A number of employers were unable to afford to pay employer contributions into company pensions during the pandemic. Such a loss of valuable employer contributions – where your boss saves into your pension scheme on your behalf – will be a big hit to pension nest eggs, particularly if an employer doesn’t resume those contributions when you return to the office. Employer contributions make it easier for you to build up a reasonable pension pot – without these contributions, it will be more difficult to do so.

There is not much that you can do if your boss tells you that they won’t be in a position to make employer pension contributions for the foreseeable future.

“There’s no legal obligation – bar a contractual obligation – for an employer to offer a pension scheme,” said Peter Griffin, director of APT Workplace Pensions. “Technically an employer may say that it had hoped to recommence pension contributions but it can’t afford to – as long as that’s communicated to staff, there’s not much an employee can do. Employment contracts will often have a clause which state that an employer can cease employer pension contributions and wind up the pension scheme at any time. If however an employer unilaterally decided that it was going to stop paying employer pension contributions because it couldn’t afford to pay them any longer –but it never told the members of the pension scheme that it was going to do so, this would have been a breach of a number of pension rules.”

To make up for any permanent loss of employer contributions to a company pension scheme, increase your personal contributions or make Additional Voluntary Contributions (top-up pension payments). Be sure however that you don’t increase your contributions to a level that you can’t get full pensions tax relief on. Be sure too to ask your employer to recommence your own personal contributions to your company pension – if you suspended them during the pandemic and have not yet reactivated them. The same applies to any Personal Retirement Savings Account (PRSA) which you have.

On your office return, check if you have lost any other pension-related benefits such as death-in-service (a tax-free lump sum paid by your employer if you die while employed by the company) or income protection insurance (which pays a percentage of your income if an illness or injury prevents you from working), particularly if employer pension contributions were cut.

This also applies to other office perks you had before Covid – don’t assume that everything will be the same as it was before the office exodus of March 2019. 

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