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Italy tops the table for tax dodging in Europe – again

The amount of lost VAT revenue in Italy was once again found to be the biggest in Europe, with the UK in second place.

Italy tops the table for tax dodging in Europe - again
Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP

Italy held on to the top spot in Europe’s rankings for VAT evasion once again, the European Commission said on Thursday.

The Italian state lost 35.4 billion euros in dodged VAT revenue, marking the biggest loss in absolute terms, according to a new EC study.

The figures, the most recent available, dated from 2018 and so were not impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lost tax revenue in Italy was up from 35.3 billion euros in 2017.

The United Kingdom was in second place with a loss worth €23.5 billion, followed by Germany with €22 billion.

As a percentage, Italy’s tax gap was fourth-biggest at just over 24 percent, behind Romania (33.8%), Greece (30.1%) and Lithuania (25.9%).

“Today's figures show that efforts to shut down opportunities for VAT fraud and evasion have been making gradual progress – but also that much more work is needed,” commented Paolo Gentiloni, EC Commissioner for Economy.

“At this time more than ever, EU countries simply cannot afford such losses,” he said, urging countries to “step up the fight against VAT fraud with renewed determination.”

READ ALSO: Could coronavirus push Italy to adopt card payments at last?

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is looking at introducing measures encouraging electronic payments as part of his Progetto Italia Cashless, or Project Cashless Italy. 

Following the meetings on Tuesday, Conte spoke of the “importance for the country of encouraging everyone to use digital payments.”
 
“It will not only mean making the payment system more efficient, more transparent and traceable: it also means laying the foundations for recovering the underground economy, discouraging payments 'in the black'.”
 
Some studies estimate that up to 86 percent of all point-of-sale payments made in Italy in 2018 were in cash – the third-highest in Europe after Spain and Greece, where the figure is 87 and 88 percent respectively.
 
This compares to just 15 percent in Sweden and 34 percent in the UK. 
 
Photo: AFP
 
Several measures encouraging cashless payments were included in the 2020 budget last November, including the promise of tax incentives for those who pay by electronic – and therefore traceable – means, as authorities try to tackle widespread tax evasion.
 
The government also stated it would slash the maximum cash payment allowed from the current 3,000 euros down to 1,000 euros by 2022.
 
Italy has long been relatively resistant to adopting forms of cashless payment. But ministers may now be hoping that the public is more open to switching to electronic payments – either due to hygiene concerns, or after shopping online for the first time during lockdown.
 
As elsewhere in the world, some Italian shops and businesses had already taken it upon themselves to start asking customers to use contactless payments to avoid handling bills possibly touched by an infected person.
 
This includes payment via apps in some restaurants, as well as requests for customers in shops to use contactless payment methods.
 

 

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EXPLAINED: What is Italy’s new digital invoicing rule for freelancers?

Italy is bringing in new rules from July that mean changes for freelancers on the 'flat tax' rate. Here’s what you need to know about the new ‘fatturazione elettronica’, or digital invoicing system.

EXPLAINED: What is Italy’s new digital invoicing rule for freelancers?

Italy has been slowly moving more of its bureaucratic systems online in recent years, and in many cases this has made it quicker and easier for residents to access services and get their considerable amounts of Italian life admin in order.

It was hoped that the new electronic invoicing rule would do the same for freelancers on Italy’s flat-tax regime, by doing away with the existing need to print out invoices and affix tax stamps by hand.

READ ALSO: Beat the queues: 19 bits of Italian bureaucracy you can do online

But a close look at the details of the new rules shows that it probably won’t make life easier for those on the flat tax rate, who have so far been spared the bulk of that infamous Italian red tape – but now need to get to grips with a new online system.

Known as the ‘regime forfettario‘, Italy’s flat-rate tax scheme for individuals and small businesses was introduced in 2015 to encourage more commercial activity by slashing tax rates and simplifying bureaucracy.

New freelancers who choose this tax system generally pay somewhere between just five and 15 percent tax on earnings, regardless of overheads.

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of Italy’s five percent flat tax for freelancers

Little has changed since its inception seven years ago, but freelancers using the scheme now need to be aware of new rules coming into force from July 1st, 2022.

How you invoice – how you send, receive and store receipts, therefore – is due to move from analogue to digital, bringing new requirements and know-how on digital invoicing software.

Here’s what’s changing for freelancers with the so-called ‘fattura elettronica‘.

Who is required to send electronic invoices?

While this was already a requirement for the self-employed on other tax regimes, those on the flat tax rate will now be included from July 1st.

They were previously exempt, but that changed under the PNRR (National recovery and resilience plan or piano nazionale di ripresa e resilienza) – the Italian government’s plan for using EU funding for post-pandemic economic recovery.

Digital invoicing is intended to fight Italy’s major problem with tax evasion, as well as to further automate accounting processes.

For now, not all freelancers under this tax scheme need to move to digital accounting – only those who received an income in excess of €25,000 in the previous year are required to comply with the new rule.

It will then extend to all freelancers using the flat-rate scheme from January 1st, 2024.

From that date, everyone subscribed to the ‘regime forfettario’ will have to switch to electronic invoicing and there are hefty penalties in place for those who don’t.

How will electronic invoices work?

Italy’s tax authority has defined a couple of notable differences between the digital or electronic invoice (fattura elettronica) and a paper invoice (fattura di carta) in its updated guidelines.

Firstly, the digital invoice has to be created using a digital device (a computer, tablet or smartphone), and secondly it has to be sent to the client via an ‘Interchange System’, the so-called Sistema di Interscambio (SdI).

READ ALSO: ‘Smart working’? Here’s what you need to know about going self-employed in Italy

Italy’s flat-rate tax scheme is going digital. Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash

This electronic postal system checks whether the invoice contains the required data for tax purposes, as well as checking the verified e-address (or the so-called PEC address) of the recipient.

In doing so, the electronic invoice automatically checks that the VAT number (partita IVA), or the tax code (codice fiscale) depending on who you send the invoice to, really exist.

Once the checks are completed, the system sends the invoice to the client, which will trigger an alert to the freelancer with a delivery receipt, showing the date and time the document was delivered.

How can you send an e-invoice?

There are a few accounting software options on the market if you’re now faced with having to send electronic invoices.

Some charge a fee of around €1-€4 per month or come at a cost per transaction.

Platforms such as ‘Aruba‘ or ‘Fatture in Cloud‘, are competitive and may offer you a free trial before you deciding to buy.

The Italian revenue agency (Agenzie delle Entrate) has also created free-of-charge services to help send and receive e-invoices. These include websites as well as apps for completing the required steps, which are detailed in their guide here.

You can access their Invoices and Receipts (‘Fatture e Corrispettivi‘) portal to benefit from these free services.

You’ll either need a Spid ID (‘Sistema Pubblico dell’Identità Digitale‘), a Carta Nazionale dei Servizi (CNS) or accounting credentials known as Fisconline/Entrate, which are issued by the Agenzie delle Entrate.

You can also delegate this task to an intermediary, such as an accountant (commercialista) who would do this on your behalf, the revenue agency stipulates 

What about the Italian tax stamp?

Until now, freelancers issuing invoices under the ‘regime forfettario‘ have had to attach a €2 stamp, called a ‘marca da bollo’, to every invoice over the value of €77,47.

So what happens when e-receipts go digital and you can’t physically stick a stamp on a document? Well, that goes digital too and the Inland Revenue has issued a 16-page guide on how you need to go about it.

It seems the previously attractive ‘light’ accounting of this regime is about to get bogged down by time-consuming bureaucracy too.

Authorities will systematically check that the fee has been paid each quarter for all the invoices that require it.

As a general rule, you can see if there are any discrepancies by the 15th day of the first month following each quarter on their Invoices and Receipts portal.

You or your intermediary have until the end of that month to fix any accounting errors, but make sure to check with an accountant if you have any difficulties or need specific advice for your personal circumstances.

Once you receive your final stamp duty bill for each quarter, you can pay either via IBAN, which you set up on the portal, or by filling out an electronic F24 form – details of how to do that are included in the guide.

For further information and FAQ’s, see Italy’s Inland Revenue Agency website on the electronic invoice here.

Please note The Local cannot advise on personal cases and seeking expert financial advice is recommended.

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