9. Communications and IT

See also:

9.2 Mobile telephones

(a) Definition

Mobile telephones are defined as portable communications devices, the primary purpose of which is the transmission and receipt of spoken messages via a public electronic communications service.

They may also have secondary data, computing or text facilities that do not exclude them from this definition, e.g. iPhone, Android and Windows devices, etc.

Where apparatus is clearly designed or adapted for the primary purpose of transmitting and receiving spoken messages and is used in connection with a public communications service, the fact that it can also be used for other functions will not prevent it from falling within the meaning of “mobile phone.”

This means that smartphones will fall within the meaning of “mobile phone.”

It is important to note that there are many types of devices that have telephone functionality which do not qualify as mobile telephones. The definition does not cover apparatus that is designed or adapted for a primary purpose other than transmitting or receiving spoken messages, even if that apparatus is also capable of being used in this way.

Examples of apparatus that does not fall within the definition of a mobile phone include satellite navigation devices, devices that are solely PDAs and tablet and laptop computers.

In general, devices that use Voice Over Internet Protocol (“VOIP”) systems to make and receive telephone calls will not satisfy the primary purpose test.

Associated costs include both those related to the equipment for accessing a network or service and the service charges for that access.

Mobile telephone costs
The following are considered to be examples of mobile telephone costs:


  • The telephone/smartphone
  • Hands-free sets and other accessories
  • SIM cards


  • Itemized call plans;
  • Inclusive packages;
  • ‘Pay and go’ and other top-up services

The following are NOT considered to be mobile telephone costs.

Exclusions to the definition of mobile telephones:

  • Fixed-line telephones, including wireless handsets which connect through a fixed base station;
  • VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephony, including Skype and similar services;
  • Two-way radio devices that connect privately rather than to networks;

A flowchart is provided to help determine correct treatment of payments relating to mobile telephones.

(b) Mobile telephones provided by the University

Where a mobile telephone is provided and paid for by the University then it will be exempt from any tax charge only as long as the following circumstances apply.

Tax exempt mobile telephones provided by the University

Business use telephones

  • the telephone is provided solely to enable the individual to perform their duties; and
  • The telephone is used in performing the individual's duties; and
  • Any private use or benefit is insignificant


Mixed or private use telephones

  • A single telephone is provided

To satisfy the business use exemption the telephone must be supplied under an itemized call package so that call usage can be monitored and, if necessary, private use be shown to be insignificant, i.e. less than 10% of total usage. Any number of telephones may be supplied to an individual on this basis.

Top-up packages, such as ‘Pay and Go’, and others that do not provide itemized call analysis cannot be claimed under the business use exemption even if they are used solely for business purposes. This is because it is not possible to show exclusivity of use. Telephones provided on this basis are limited to one per person.

Where telephones are provided to an individual with the purpose that they be passed on to others (e.g. to enable collection of research data in the field) then these rules will apply in respect of the recipients of the telephones rather than the person who distributes and collects them, i.e. the individual will not be deemed to have more than one telephone unless they use them directly themselves.

Where telephones are provided by the University that do not meet these rules then a taxable benefit will arise. See Appendix 4.

(c) Mobile telephones owned by individuals but used for business purposes

Where a mobile telephone is owned by a private individual, claims for reimbursement of costs from the University will only be exempt from any tax charge as long as the following circumstances apply.

Tax exempt mobile telephones not provided by the University:

Business use

  • The cost of itemized business calls only may be claimed, supported by a detailed, itemized bill

Un-itemized packages, top-ups, etc. may be claimed for personal mobile telephones at the discretion of the department, but this will give rise to a taxable benefit. See Appendix 4.