In our previous blog, we looked at the challenges that businesses face in submitting VAT and other declarations on an ongoing basis. However, the compliance cycle doesn’t end there as tax authorities will carry out audits for a variety of reasons to validate declarations.
Why do tax authorities carry out audits?
When VAT returns consisted of only numbers, audits were carried out to obtain more information about the business activities taking place behind those numbers. The increased amounts of transaction data provided to tax authorities via SAF-T, local listings and continuous transaction controls (CTCs) means this is changing. Audits are still carried out even with the additional VAT information, mainly to determine that VAT declarations accurately reflect the activities of the business.
Whilst the frequency of audits varies considerably between Member States, it is common across the EU for an audit to be carried out if the business requests a repayment of VAT. In some countries, this will happen whenever a repayment is requested, whereas others will take a more risk-based approach and only audit if the repayment is higher than expected from a business that regularly receives repayments.
Speed is of the essence for audits as cashflow is impacted until the repayment is made. This needs to be at the forefront of whoever is managing the audit but careful consideration of the questions being asked by the tax authority and responses being made by the business remains essential.
Preparing for an audit
Audits can either be done in-person or via correspondence although In-person audits are currently less common due to Covid-19. The audit is normally carried out via correspondence if the taxpayer is not established in the country of registration, which in some countries requires a local advisor.
This leads to a key question: whether to handle the audit in-house or bring in external expertise. Whilst managing an audit in-house will save fees, it is essential to consider the consequences of the audit. An external advisor could be brought in at a later stage but they may be hampered by responses provided to the tax authority at the outset of the audit. Proper consideration should be given to utilising specialist external advisors, especially if there is a significant amount of VAT or complex issues are involved.
The priority for any audit is to successfully resolve it as quickly as possible with no detrimental impact to the business. This will minimise the amount of management time, fees and exposure to penalties or interest.
Managing the audit process
Many audits will start with the tax authority asking some specific questions – this could be about the business generally or about specific transactions. The questions are asked for a reason so businesses need to consider why they’re being asked to determine how to respond and minimise the risk of problems later in the audit.
Managing deadlines is important as failure to do so can have detrimental effects. Some tax authorities impose very short deadlines so prompt attention is required. It may be possible to agree an extension, but this is not always the case. Providing clear unambiguous answers and supporting documentation is essential to obtain the desired outcome.
Once the audit has been concluded, any corrective action needs to be taken. In the ideal situation, nothing must be done and the business can continue to trade successfully. If an adverse decision or payment request has been issued by the tax authority, consideration needs to be given as to whether to appeal the decision; again, strict deadlines must be met.
Even without such a decision, the audit may have highlighted areas where work is required to avoid problems arising in the future. An action plan should be created with clear responsibilities and deadlines.
Once all work has been done, the business can return to the normal compliance cycle of submitting VAT returns and other declarations. An ongoing challenge is making sure the business successfully manages changes in their VAT position, and we will be looking at this in our final blog in this series.