The EU VAT Treatment of Public Sector Bodies: Slowly Moving in the Wrong Direction
Rita de la Feria (Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation)
In most countries applying a VAT system, the activities and transactions undertaken by public sector bodies are not subject to full taxation. The rationale usually invoked to justify lack of full taxation is of a mixed conceptual and political kind. On one hand, there is a view that the activities of those bodies are hard to tax and that, in practice, it is almost impossible to establish a single VAT treatment applicable to all of them. One the other hand, and more importantly, there is a perception that exclusion of the products supplied by public sector bodies from full taxation, achieves social and distributional aims. The rule under the EU VAT system is that supplies by public sector bodies are non-taxable. In practice, however, the VAT treatment of public sector bodies is extremely complex, giving rise to significant legal problems and economic distortions. The aim of this paper is to consider the current legislative framework, with special consideration being given to recent developments in this area, at both legislative and jurisprudential levels, in an attempt to determine whether they constitute positive progress, or whether together they represent a slow and subtle move towards a further deepening of the system’s already existing flaws.
Published as The EU VAT Treatment of Public Sector Bodies: Slowly Moving in the Wrong Direction, in Intertax, 2009; 37 (3) pp. 148-165.