The principal complaint of Eddy Claesen, a tax advisor from Genk who set up the petition at stopdefiscaleonzin.be, is a penalty for business people who wrongly submit private expenses as business expenses, thus avoiding tax. If inspectors find the expense has been wrongly submitted, the business is liable to pay a fine of 309% of the value. The penalty, Claesen said, is “completely out of proportion”. While it is right to tackle fraud, he said, tax inspectors are applying the penalty without consideration in cases where the business has made a mistake, or where there remains doubt about the admissibility of the expense.
Unizo, one of the organisations representing the self-employed, agrees with that point, and supports the petition, which as Flanders Today went to press had been signed by almost 4,000 business owners. “The tax burden on businesses is beyond all limits,” Unizo said in a statement, calling on the federal government to provide “clarity regarding tax rules so that businesses and their financial advisors can apply them correctly and fairly”.
Meanwhile, the Neutral Union for the Self-Employed (NSZ) said that while the 309% penalty is not new, the vigour with which it is now being imposed is. “For NSZ, this is just the latest discouraging signal for entrepreneurs,” it said. “We understand that private expenses cannot be deducted, but we find fines of 309% are far too high, and create a brake on the economy. Above all the fines will give rise to a great deal of dispute, which small businesses have neither the time nor the resources to fight.”
The petitioners found an unlikely ally in John Crombez (pictured), the federal secretary of state in charge of tackling fraud, who is the named target of the petition but who argues that the policy comes not from his department but from the finance ministry of Steven Vanackere. “The finance ministry has waited too long, in my view, in clarifying the rules, also as far as their own inspectors are concerned,” Crombez said.
“When business people make a mistake, or there is a question regarding certain expenses, it seems to me it would be sufficient for businesses to set the payment straight.” Fines, he said, should be reserved for cases of blatant fraud. At the finance ministry, it was said that a more transparent and more reasonable version of the policy would be presented this week.