• Sweden's news in English

Only five people have paid booze taxes

James Savage · 25 Jun 2007, 16:00

Published: 25 Jun 2007 16:00 GMT+02:00

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Online stores based in other EU countries aimed at Swedish customers have reported increased sales since the ban was lifted.

Tax authorities say they still hope that people's good will will lead them to pay taxes voluntarily, but a major crackdown is not yet in sight. A leading Moderate Party MEP says that Sweden has to find a more sustainable way of handling taxation of alcohol bought over the internet.

The previous Swedish ban on deliveries of alcohol purchased outside the country was lifted by a European Court ruling in early June.

An earlier ruling stipulated, however, that people buying alcohol from another EU country and having it delivered home to Sweden would have to fill in tax forms and pay Swedish alcohol tax.

But according to the Niclas Rönnberg, head of the Swedish Tax Authority's alcohol tax unit, only five people have so far sent in the correct forms.

"We certainly believe that there are more people importing than are reporting," he told The Local.

"Personally, I believe that this is because people don't know that they have to pay Swedish tax. This is all quite new," he said.

The rules on paying taxes on alcohol are complicated. VAT is paid in the country where the purchase was made. Alcohol tax is paid in Sweden. Swedish taxes on alcohol are much higher than those in Germany, and adding Swedish tax often eradicates the price differential between the two countries.

The tax authority is currently devising a simpler form for people to declare their purchases, and the form is likely to be made downloadable from the authority's website. But there is currently no effective means to force people to declare.

"I hope that the public willingness to pay will make this work. The tax authority always works to make people want to pay their share," said Rönnberg.

Authorities are also looking into other measures to force Swedes to pay up.

"We are looking into requesting foreign tax authorities to give details of sales from stores in their countries," Rönnberg said.

The Swedish Customs authority, Tullverket, is seeking to come to an agreement with the tax authority to make it possible to pin down those who have not paid tax on their alcohol. But the chance of getting caught is currently still low.

"Swedish Customs has the right to carry out spot checks across the country," Swedish Customs' Sven-Peter Olsson told The Local.

"How widespread these checks will be is something we are still looking at," he added. At present, there are no extra funds available to pay for increased checks on internet alcohol.

"What is clear is that the person who import alcohol has to pay tax."

Critics of the current system say it is unworkable in its present form, not least because the Swedish tax authority does not provide a simple way for people to reclaim the alcohol taxes paid in the country in which the drinks were sold.

This leads to people paying both Swedish and German alcohol tax on drinks bought in Germany.

Story continues below…

The Swedish tax authorities currently refer purchasers to the German tax authorities for refunds.

"It doesn't seem to be sustainable, the way it is organized right now. I find it very hard to see how this is going to work," said Christofer Fjellner, Moderate Party Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and a leading critic of Sweden's alcohol policy.

"The Swedish government has to find a way of compensating the seller in another country who has already paid the taxes. One of the fundamental things about the single market is that you can't have double taxation."

"This issue touches on many different aspects of Swedish and European policy," he added.

James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.se)

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