It is a case that there are many in the capital: Ms. F. works in the hotel industry, she has been on short-time work since the beginning of the pandemic. Since she could only work a few days a week, she received short-time work benefits for months. For this, the federal government had repeatedly extended the regulations for the simplified drawing of short-time allowance and helped ensure that millions of people in this country do not lose their jobs. So far so good. The other side of the coin, however, is that a special income tax rate is set as a result, which can lead to high demands for additional payments.
It was the same with the Berlin hotel employee and her husband. Because the savings of the family with a small child were not enough for the tax back payment, they asked the tax office for a deferral. Instead of all at once, she wanted to repay the amount in two monthly installments. The authority then requested information on the current income situation. But not only that. In the letter that is “nd”, it goes on to say: “There is a lack of information as to why repayment of the tax arrears does not appear to be possible by taking out a loan.”
The woman then paid the full amount and accepted the overdraft interest. Banks collect an average of ten percent for overdrawing the current account – far too much, as experts have been criticizing for years. In any case, money is scarce with those who, because of their short-time work, are now fluttering back payment demands from the tax office into their homes. As poor people find it harder to get a loan, they are dependent on the overdraft facility – with corresponding costs.
The employee then turned to the Berlin Left MP Sebastian Schluesselburg. From a purely legal point of view, there is nothing wrong with the procedure. Wage replacement benefits such as short-time working, maternity leave, unemployment or sick pay are generally tax-free, but are subject to progression. That means: The income tax rate is determined according to the »individual performance«. If this increases, more taxes have to be paid. So if an employee received short-time work benefits, a “special tax rate” is due. This is calculated from the sum of the actual income and the wage replacement benefit, i.e. in this case the short-time work allowance. The tax rate is therefore higher than what one would have to pay on the income reduced by short-time work.
This particular tax rate should be an issue for millions of people in the 2020 income tax return. Exactly how many there are can hardly be quantified. The total arrears for income tax are recorded in Berlin, but not in connection with short-time work allowance. In addition, neither the tax offices in the districts nor across Berlin had any information on requests for deferral or their results, according to the Senate Finance Administration at nd request.
“We are in a historically exceptional situation with the pandemic,” says Sebastian Schluesselburg. Many people have to cope with less money, and many Berliners have had their rent caps broken. One also has to think about unbureaucratic solutions – or at least exploit existing discretionary leeway as far as possible, says the right-wing political spokesman for the left-wing parliamentary group. Schliisselburg then calls the letters from the Steglitz tax office “frighteningly empathetic”: “It cannot be that the tax offices across Germany drive millions of people who now have to pay taxes back due to receiving short-time work benefits into debt.”
In the federal tax code, which is the legal basis for a deferral, it says that amounts due could be deferred in whole or in part, “if the collection when due would mean considerable hardship for the debtor”. Whether taking up an overdraft facility already means considerable hardship remains a matter of interpretation. When von Schluisselburg pointed out that many people are now being forced to take out loans, the tax authorities replied succinctly: “Taxpayers have to make provisions for paying taxes, just like other taxpayers.”
The MP criticizes the fact that cases of hardship are not sufficiently taken into account. »It’s not about changes to the law, but rather that discretion is used. And if the Senate had needed a new legal basis for this: You had over a year to spare, ”says Schlüsselburg, irritated. For him it is clear: The finance ministers of the federal states must now instruct their tax offices to grant deferral requests unbureaucratically if people cannot pay the required sum all at once. With letters like the one from the Steglitz tax office, “the last trust in politics is lost”.