Consumer Rights: Don't let this backlash deter you from asking to work from home

Criticisms by big names of remote staff should not stop you requesting flexible hours, so long as you have the technology and are self-disciplined

Marissa Mayer, the boss of Yahoo, has told 11,500 employees to come back to the office or quit. Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue, refuses all requests to work from home because she believes in "the collective creativity of the office". And just when we've got all the technology – mobile devices, Skype, video-conferencing, cloud computing – to allow us to work any time, anywhere.

Twenty years ago forecasters convinced us that working from home was the way of the future. They said employers would want to reduce office space and keep costs down. In turn we'd cut out the commute and be there when the children got home from school. As with predictions about the paperless office, the cashless society and robots, it has only partially panned out. Unless we run a business from the back bedroom most of us still go into the office most of the time because the boss never quite learned to trust us and we miss the office politics. And if Ms Shulman and Ms Mayer are anything to go by, there's a bit of a backlash building against flexible working.

If you are a carer for someone you have a legal right to ask for flexible working. Anyone else can ask, but the employer doesn't have to agree. If your request is refused your boss should write to you with the reasons for a refusal, an explanation about how flexible working affects their business, and telling you how to appeal. Employers can refuse if there are good business reasons – they wouldn't be able to meet customer demand, for example, or there would be extra costs that would damage the business.

Of course, if you're eligible for parental leave you can take time off unpaid to look after your children, even if your request for flexible working is turned down.

Working from home takes discipline. Set boundaries, goals and limits, and rule your working space out of bounds to others. On the other hand, don't over-work to alleviate your guilt. Set regular working hours and stick to them.

Dress as you would for the office. You'll work better if you're dressed for the part and are sitting up straight rather than slouching in your dressing gown.

There are very few financial perks to working from home apart from reduced travel expenses, and if you don't keep careful checks and your employer refuses to contribute to your extra expenses you could end up out of pocket.

If you have no choice but to work from home you can get tax relief for extra expenses such as the cost of heating and lighting your work area and for business phone calls. You can't get relief on things you would pay anyway, such as your mortgage or council tax, or for expenses that relate to both business and private use, such as your telephone line rental or internet access.

Currently you don't need to provide records for expenses claims up to £4 a week or £18 a month. For amounts above that you will need bills and receipts to show the amount you are claiming is accurate.


Q: I have lived with my parents in our council flat all my life. After dad died I took care of mum. She died at the end of last year. The council has confirmed I am now the legal tenant. But as the flat has more than one bedroom and I'm living by myself they say I may have to move to a smaller flat. I'm working and paying most of the rent myself but do get some housing benefit. Can they make me move?

KG, Preston

A: Unfortunately you are caught in new housing benefit rules that come into force next month. Then the amount of benefit households are entitled to will be reduced if they have unoccupied bedrooms they don't need. But in your case, after a bereavement, you will have a year's grace.

About 660,000 households which previously had all their rent covered by housing benefit will have to pay an average of £14 a week towards their rent if they want to stay in their homes. The alternative is to move to smaller properties, under the new rules applying to working age claimants.

If there is a housing advice centre near you or a law centre, see them immediately.

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