Lately, we have seen a whole list of issues, coming up for Belgian taxpayers. These seem to be the result of the recent initiative of the tax authorities to take over the control over parts of the file of taxpayers without their approval or without even notifying them. The interest of taxpayers is not seldom grossly neglected.
Some nasty examples:
Once the tax return is filed, it is up to the authorities to issue a tax assessment and to send this to the taxpayer, who then needs to pay any balance of tax due or can collect a refund.
For many years, the Belgian tax authorities have difficulties in sending tax assessments to non-resident taxpayers. This is very logical because they can not rely on the Belgian civil register with a Belgian commune to keep address data up to date. The data records with foreign taxpayer information of the tax office, has always been very unreliable, each year resulting in numerous errors.
In the past, the authorities most often solved this problem by sending the tax assessment directly to the accountant or tax advisor, who assisted with the tax filing. In this way a large number of assessments was still delivered in an easy way to the taxpayer (via the consultant). Consultants often helped revenue services in properly collecting taxes or sorting out refunds.
In some cases, this method did not work, for example if there was a change of tax advisor or in those cases where no use of a tax advisor was made or when a taxpayer moved abroad without properly informing the advisor. These files then inevitably became messy.
From 2022 onwards, the tax authorities simply stopped sending tax assessments to professional advisors altogether. In addition, they also stopped sending tax assessments by regular mail (most often to an incorrect address) to taxpayers abroad. To make their life easier, they decided to drop all tax assessments on the electronic file of the taxpayer (MyMinFin). This was easy for the tax office, but only results in pushing forward the problems, that are now popping up:
It is obvious that only few taxpayers are even aware of the existence of these tax assessments:
The approach by the tax office is not at all in line with tax law. Only from 2025 onwards, digital documents can be processed in this way. For individual taxpayers, in addition, there is always the option in the law to request traditional mailing of documents instead of electronic delivery. By not abiding with the law, the tax office is creating a whole set of problems for taxpayers and for their own officials, who will have to work hard to clean up this mess. How is it possible that the Belgian revenue services introduce procedures, that are clearly contrary to the law?
2. Disregarding family status
It can even get worse in some cases. One of the core principles in Belgian individual taxation is the requirement for the authorities to issue joint tax returns and tax assessments on the name of married persons and legal co-habitants. To be able to do this, the authorities need a good database with family information.
We note that the family information, used by the tax office, has become very unreliable. This especially creates problems in the following cases:
In many cases, the Belgian tax office simply decides to disregard the married status of the partner, who derives taxable income in Belgium. This immediately results in an erroneous tax assessment, often to the disadvantage of the taxpayer as several automatic and substantial deductions are related to the marriage and/or family status of the individuals. Similar errors are regularly noted by us in case there are tax dependent children that are disregarded or improperly accounted for by the tax office.
Rectifying all this is often quite difficult as suddenly the tax office starts to request evidence of the marriage (including the certification and translation of foreign documents) and initiates unnecessary discussions on tax dependent children. This leads to inconvenience, expenses and frustration with the taxpayers. GDPR legislation allows individuals to request immediate correction of errors in the database. No evidence is required to to so. Authorities must adjust incorrect data at the request of the civilians without raising additional questions (just as is the case for any other organization that keeps personal data).
It appears that when people arrive in Belgium or leave the country, the tax office does not proceed with a proper initial review of the family situation (single, married, tax dependents, etc….). Many Belgian tax files are consequently started or continued in an incorrect way. We even note cases, where correct family information is provided by the taxpayer and where the tax office decides (without any notification or motivation) to unilaterally change this. The resulting tax assessments are incorrect and the taxpayers need to start proceedings to obtain the necessary rectifications.
We can only conclude that the tax office should stop interfering with personal information of taxpayers without prior notification and without approval by the taxpayer (as by the way is required by the data privacy legislation – GDPR – that seems not to be known at all by the tax office). Our tax file belongs to us and tax officers have no right to proceed with any unilateral changes.
Much more care is needed with the setting up of the data files by the tax office. Data on the files should be transparent and the taxpayer should at all times be able to consult the information and be able to make immediate corrections in case errors are detected. Tax officials should no longer be allowed to touch the individual files of taxpayers without their prior and explicit approval for any purpose, other than conducting regular tax audits.