As the annual tax filing deadline approaches for most Norwegians this week, Finance Minister Siv Jensen is proposing a new form of tax relief. She wants to make it easier for Norwegians to complain if they disagree with a tax audit, by simplifying the audit appeals system.
Jensen, who long has championed the conventional form of tax relief in the form of lower taxes, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Monday that she wants to create just one new tax appeals board that would handle all complaints regarding both income and estate taxes, and Norway’s high VAT called merverdiavgift (MVA) or, more simply, “moms.” It currently stands at 25 percent for nearly all goods and services, 15 percent for food and 8 percent for cinema tickets and personal transport.
It’s tax time in Norway, as salaried employees and pensioners face the annual April 30 for filing their tax returns. Sole-proprietors filing electronically have until the end of May but the vast majority are now sending off their annual selvangivelse, the name for the annual standard tax form that literally translates to “giving of yourself.”
Agreeing with the critics
Critics have railed for years that the process for appealing any tax examination or audit that increases taxes and/or imposes punitive fines is lengthy and complicated. Critics have also charged that the lay people sitting on the civilian tax appeals boards lack competence in both tax law and various forms of business or activity being taxed. There’s been an emphasis on the efficient collection of alleged back taxes and fines owed, they argue, at the expense of citizens’ legal rights.
Jensen, who took over as finance minister last fall, agrees and proposes on behalf of the government that the current appeals boards for tax and VAT be merged into the one new board. Her proposal also calls for establishment of a secretariat reporting to the state tax office (Skattedirektoratet) that will prepare all complaint cases for the board.
The new combined board, under Jensen’s plan, will replace the current regional tax boards, the central boards that handle tax complaints filed by large companies, the central board that handles international tax cases and the complaints board for VAT.
‘Simplify and strengthen’
“Merging all this into just one, national board will simplify the process, especially when we also strengthen its competence,” Jensen told DN. It can also be more streamlined and impartial, it’s believed, eliminating the possibility for regional differences in how cases are handled.
Tax is a thorny issue in Norway as in all countries, given many Norwegians’ higher level of acceptance for taxes in return for social benefits but also limits as to how much they see as fair as opposed to onerous taxation. Complaints thus arise, all the time, and Jensen aims to strengthen taxpayers’ rights.
All new members of tax appeals boards, she proposes, must be educated as lawyers, economists or accountants. Members will be appointed by the finance ministry, with various public interest organizations nominating candidates, in line with a proposal from the tax authorities themselves last year.
Jensen’s proposal was sent out for hearing on Monday, and she hopes a new merged complaints board will be ready for implementation by the end of next year.