Tax office may soon wave more through – Interview

Home office, short-time work – the corona crisis has turned working life upside down. The tax offices are also affected – and could soon turn a blind eye to some tax returns.

The corona pandemic presents taxpayers and tax offices with new challenges. Hundreds of thousands of short-time workers suddenly have to file a tax return, the commuter allowance is scarce due to the home office, but at the same time you cannot drop the work corner at the dining table.

Thomas Eigenhaler, head of the German tax union, sees the politicians in the duty to relieve the taxpayers. In the interview, he calls for a home office flat rate of 600 euros, more goodwill for short-time workers and explains why the tax offices may no longer take a close look at some tax returns from autumn. Mr. Eigenhaler, many taxpayers have to submit their tax returns by July 31st. Or are the tax offices in Corona times more accommodating when it comes to late taxes?

Thomas Eigenhaler: If you fail to extend the deadline, the law strikes. Corona is no reason to let things go. Many even had almost more time to take care of themselves. There can be no great courtesy. In some cases, maybe, but not across the board.

Supreme Tax Union
Thomas Eigenhaler, born in 1958, has been Federal Chairman of the German Tax Union (DSTG) since 2011. He represents the approximately 110,000 employees in more than 600 German tax offices. Eigenhaler is also the deputy federal chairman of the DBB Civil Service Federation and collective bargaining union.

The employees of the tax offices also worked partly in the home office. Will taxpayers have to wait longer for this decision this year?

We do not find any significant difference in the simple employee cases. The employees in the tax offices weren’t short-time workers. However, only the electronic data can be processed in the home office, i.e. mostly the simple cases.

In more complicated cases, on the other hand – if you have to roll over balance sheets and check additional income, for example – you cannot rule out that it will take longer. But this is not in the interest of the tax authorities. We don’t want to put a bow wave on tax returns before us.

Does that mean the tax offices will soon turn a blind eye?

It is so: We are the only authority in Germany that cannot be behind for years. So we have to think carefully about what we are testing – and what is not. It may be that in autumn we no longer complain about every little thing, that we switch the traffic lights to “green” more often after the holidays.

Thomas Eigenhaler, head of the German Tax Union, believes it is possible that tax returns will no longer be examined in minute detail from autumn. (Source: dbb)Thomas Eigenhaler, head of the German Tax Union, believes it is possible that tax returns will no longer be examined in minute detail from autumn. (Source: dbb)

The corona crisis has forced many workers into the home office. Very few people have a study that is recognized by the tax office. That’s pretty unfair, isn’t it?

You’re right. As of today, getting a home office recognized is actually very difficult. To do this, you must have a room that is used almost exclusively for professional purposes. Many do not have such large living conditions. On the other hand, the tax offices will now look closely and the Mileage allowance shorten by the time of the home office.

Should the rule be relaxed?

Yes! I am for a home office fee. Then nobody needs to measure with the ruler. The Hessian Ministry of Finance has already advocated a flat-rate deduction of a maximum of 600 euros from the tax. I think that’s a sensible idea.

However, the federal government is responsible for tax laws. How realistic is it that the proposal will go through?

I can only hope that politics has an understanding. Because if we in the tax office start to cut the mileage allowance but offer nothing in return, it will only cause trouble.

Working for the tax offices
The German Tax Union (DSTG) is a politically independent advocacy group for employees of the German financial administration. It is a member union of the DBB Beamtenbund and tariff union. It is committed to ensuring that employees find good working conditions in the tax offices, but it also pursues tax policy objectives. Among other things, she advocates simpler tax laws and the fight against tax evasion.

Not only is home office new to many this year, short-time work also affects millions of employees. What are the consequences for your taxes?

Short-time work benefits are initially tax-free, but are subject to the so-called progression reservation. That means: Short-time work allowance increases the tax rate for the rest of the taxable income. You get less money back than if you hadn’t been on short-time work. In December, the employer is also not allowed to compensate for wages tax annually, with which he reimburses the employee overpaid tax. Those who have received short-time work benefits tend to be sent to 2021 with an overpayment and have to file a tax return.

So the tax offices get a lot of new cases?

Exactly. And for employees this may mean additional costs if they have to get help from an income tax relief association or tax advisor. In the finance committee of the Bundestag, I therefore proposed to suspend the rule for 2020 so as not to incur the displeasure of many short-time workers. However, this only caught the ears of the FDP, the rest refused.

Tax offices would also save work if more tax returns could be processed automatically. How far are you from your goal of fully checking half by 2023?

We are still a long way from that. About ten to 15 percent of the declarations are currently being processed without an employee intervening. In many cases, German tax law is too complicated for automation.

In order to achieve the 50 percent target at all, the legislature would often have to be five, but this does not meet with my approval. It would be better if he would work more with flat rates – as we now suggest for the home office.

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