European Commission Confirms Billions Lost in VAT Gap

An estimated €193 billion in VAT revenues (1.5% of GDP) was lost due to non-compliance or non-collection in 2011, according to a new study on the VAT Gap in Member States. The study was funded by Commission as part of its work to reform the VAT system in Europe, as well as its wider campaign to clamp down on tax evasion. The study sets out detailed data on the gap between the amount of VAT due and the amount actually collected in 26 Member States between2000-2011. The main factors contributing to the VAT Gap are also presented, along with an overview of the effect of the economic crisis on VAT revenues.

Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner for Taxation, said: “The amount of VAT that is slipping through the net is unacceptable; particularly given the impact such sums could have in bolstering public finances. However, there is also a positive message to be drawn from today’s findings. Our ambitious reform of the VAT system, the EU measures to combat tax evasion and our recommendations for national tax reforms, are all targeted in the right direction. We know the problem; we have identified solutions to it, and now it’s time for Member States to act. Today’s figures will serve as a baseline to assess their progress in improving VAT compliance in the years ahead.”

The VAT Gap is the difference between the expected VAT revenue and VAT actually collected by national authorities. While non-compliance is certainly an important contributor to this revenue shortfall, the VAT Gap is not only due to fraud. Unpaid VAT also results from bankruptcies and insolvencies, statistical errors, delayed payments and legal avoidance, amongst other things. Therefore, effectively tackling the VAT Gap requires a multi-pronged approach.

“The amount of VAT that is slipping through the net is unacceptable; particularly given the impact such sums could have in bolstering public finances.”

First, a tougher stance against evasion, and stronger enforcement at national level, are essential. The VAT reform launched in December 2011 has already delivered important tools to ensure better protection against VAT fraud. For example, the Quick Reaction Mechanism, adopted in June 2013, will allow Member States to react much more swiftly and effectively to sudden, large-scale cases of VAT fraud.

Secondly, the simpler the system, the easier it is for taxpayers to comply with the rules. Therefore, the Commission has focused intently on making the VAT system easier for businesses across Europe. For example, new measures to facilitate electronic invoicing and special provisions for small businesses came into force at the start of the year, and a standard VAT declaration form for the entire EU will be proposed in the coming weeks. From 1 January 2015, a One Stop Shop will enter into force for e-services and telecoms businesses, which will promote more compliance by greatly simplifying VAT procedures for these businesses and enabling them to file a single VAT return for their activities across the EU).

Finally, Member States need to reform their national tax systems in a way that facilitates compliance, deters evasion and avoidance, and improves the efficiency of tax collection. The Commission has given clear guidance in this respect through the country specific recommendations. Today’s report also suggests that complicated tax systems with multiple rates are two main contributors to non-compliance. Therefore, the Commission’s repeated call to Member States to broaden national tax bases and to limit tax exemptions and reductions, should be given particular attention. Not only would this help simplify tax systems, but it may enable Member States to avoid hikes in the standard VAT rates.


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