Studies on the shadow economy

Companies’ tax debt information available in a tax debt register free of charge

The tax debt register helps both ordinary consumers and entrepreneurs to avoid purchases from companies with tax debt. The tax debt register refers to information, open for all, on any tax debts of companies and deficiencies in reporting of self-assessed taxes. Tax debt information is available online at ytj.fi → yrityshaku. 

Tax debt register browsed more than a million times each year

Based on the number of users, the tax debt register is necessary. The usage rate has totalled 1.4 to 2.2 million searches per year. The tax debt register was introduced in December 2014.

The number of searches performed in the tax debt register in 2015–2017

High user satisfaction but more information is required

Based on a user survey, the users of the tax debt register have a positive attitude towards the register and find it quick and easy to use. The register is considered reliable and useful. However, just a fraction of users of the tax debt register satisfy themselves with only the information provided by the register. Most users simultaneously utilise the commercial tilaajavastuu.fi service, which provides details on compliance with contractors’ obligations.

Tax debt register users would like all information pursuant to the Act on the Contractor’s Obligations and Liability when Work is Contracted Out to be available in the same place, free of charge. Many find this a key development area. 

Finnish Tax Administration aims to expand the information content of the tax debt register

The Finnish Tax Administration proposes that the information contents of the public tax debt register be expanded to become considerably more comprehensive than now. The change would make compliance with the Act on the Contractor’s Obligations and Liability when Work is Contracted Out easier and enhance the efficiency of the Finnish Tax Administration's operations. However, expanding the information content would require legislative amendments.

The impact survey of the tax debt register was conducted by the Finnish Tax Administration’s Grey Economy Information Unit. 

Read the full report in Finnish (PDF 935 kt)


Food frauds on the increase – difficult to control 

The food sector is vulnerable to fraudulent activities: the risk of being caught is small, the profits are often high and the sanctions for any crimes tend to be low. The common motivator in food-related crimes is financial gain. In most cases, such crimes are financial offences, and often also hidden crimes.

Prevention and investigation of food frauds is challenging. In Finland, the focus of food supervision authorities is on food safety, and potential suspected crimes have not always been brought under pre-trial investigation.

Kirsi Hannula from Evira points out that, in recent years, cooperation between authorities has been stepped up, which has resulted in more efficient initiation of criminal proceedings in police departments all over Finland.

Through their unions, representatives of the food industry have expressed their willingness to participate in the prevention of food fraud. In spite of the increased cooperation and support by the sector, investing in the prevention of crime in the food chain will be a challenge for the whole chain of authorities in the years to come.

Shortcomings in fulfilling obligations among food industry operators

A survey on how food companies fulfil their obligations reveals, for example, that almost every third operator has tax liabilities, and about every fifth food company has negative equity.

The survey showed that companies with shortcomings or serious shortcomings in complying with food laws had, relatively speaking, more irregularities in fulfilling their reporting and payment obligations related to taxation than other companies.

Increased powers for food control

Evira and the Grey Economy Information Unit have together examined the needs for amending the Food Act. Their report proposes introducing in the law provisions on the reliability of food industry operators, expanding the data access rights of authorities and the right of authorities to disclose information to other authorities on their own initiative. 

The reliability of the operator, which, in this context, would refer to, for example, carrying out the statutory obligations, should serve as the precondition for operating in the food sector. The reliability requirement would promote honest competition within the food industry and improve the operating conditions of companies that follow the rules. The authorities’ access to information should also be enhanced to ensure that authorities could verify the reliability of companies without increasing the administrative burden of entrepreneurs.

A comprehensive reform of the Food Act is currently pending in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and it would be appropriate to implement the reforms proposed in the survey in connection with the comprehensive reform.

Read the full report in Finnish (PDF 1,26 Mt)


Criminal record increases risk of grey economy activities

A person’s criminal record is important to assessing the risk of involvement in the grey economy. There is a connection between the criminal record of a responsible person and their management of business obligations. However, strict limitations are in place on the usability of criminal intelligence in official supervision.

More debt and irregularities in the case of persons with a criminal record

In general, companies owned by persons with a criminal record have more tax liabilities than other companies. According to the survey, high tax liabilities in excess of EUR 30,000 were clearly more common than normal and the share of non-managed tax liabilities was more than three times that of other companies. The share of companies taxed based on an estimation was five times that of other companies. Research proves that a company's tax liability predicts the risk of participation in the grey economy.

Companies owned by persons with a criminal record underwent tax audits more frequently than other companies, and more than half of the audits were grey economy audits. The companies and responsible persons were more frequently subject to enforcement measures and such companies had undergone the various stages of bankruptcy three times more frequently than other companies.

Companies managed by responsible persons with a criminal background often have a short lifecycle.  Furthermore, these companies are less frequently entered in the prepayment or VAT register than other companies. In addition, on the basis of the Finnish Tax Administration’s register data, they are often inactive.

Non-financial criminal records also raise the risk of irregularities

The type of crime previously committed – whether it be financial or non-financial in nature – has no notable effect on the risk of cessation of business. A record of financial irregularities and deficiencies in registrations, notifications and payments was more common than usual among persons guilty of financial or other offences.

Criminal record information would be of considerable help in the supervision of business

Information on the criminal record of a responsible person running a company would be of considerable importance to official supervision. However, effective use of criminal record information has not been possible. The current legislation does not allow the Finnish Tax Administration to use criminal records for purposes such as risk management. The permit and registration authorities should be able to take account of the criminal records of responsible persons as part of risk identification and when assessing the preconditions for running a business.

The survey reveals clear shortcomings in the conduct of businesspersons who have committed offences, as well as risks of participation in the grey economy. The identification of financial irregularities, such as a criminal record and tax liabilities, as well as other information on the financial position of a company, would be integral to taking preventative action against the grey economy.

The findings of the survey support the recurring themes of key projects in the National Strategy for Tackling the Grey Economy and Economic Crime for 2016–2020, on improving the exchange of information between authorities and promoting fair competition.

This article is based on a report by the Grey Economy Information Unit 21/2018.

Read the full report in Finnish (PDF 1,33 Mt)


Over 100 million in tax revenue through online POS systems – suitability for Finland investigated

Working Group of Finnish Tax Administration proposes the introduction of fiscal online point-of-sale systems in Finland. These systems send data of sales transactions to the Tax Administration. In Finland, the systems would be introduced in some 170,000 companies engaged in consumer sales.

Concealment of income is a commonly used method in the shadow economy

Concealment of income and cash register manipulation create a tax gap. In sectors dominated by the use of cash, the simplest way to avoid declaring all sales is to alter the sales data recorded in accounts. There is currently no legislation in Finland defining the minimum requirements, uses, or features of point-of-sale systems or equipment. A fiscal point-of-sale system would ensure unchanged sales data.

Higher tax revenues can be expected

The introduction of a fiscal point-of-sale system can be expected to increase the annual growth in tax revenues by approximately EUR 120–140 million. Countries that have introduced these systems have reported an increase in tax revenues. In Sweden, tax revenues grew by around 5% in various sectors. According to OECD studies, competitive neutrality between businesses has also improved.

The start-up expenses would total around EUR 122 million for companies and EUR 24 million for the Tax Administration. There would be no marked change in annual operating costs for businesses over the current level, and the increase for the Tax Administration would total approximately EUR 4–6 million.

Finland not up to speed with international development

At least 22 OECD and IOTA countries are already using various types of fiscal point-of-sale systems. Of these, 15 are EU countries. The various countries have different systems. The online system is electronically connected to a party outside the cash register system, e.g. the tax administration.

Tax control of companies' sales data

According to the proposal, the Tax Administration would receive information on companies’ sales through the point-of-sale systems. Customer information would not be collected. The data to be collected would, in substance, consist of data defined by legislation governing the obligation to offer a receipt. Aggregate sales data would also be collected.

Technical implementation

A buffered online system is proposed as a solution for implementing fiscal point-of-sale systems. Buffering means that an enterprise's sales transactions are stored in a buffer in potential network error situations and transferred to the Tax Administration when the network is restored.

The solution would be available for controlling business transactions in point-of-sale systems. This would be a multifunctional technological solution, which could also be applied to controlling the platform economy.

The reform takes account of future development

When implemented, the fiscal point-of-sale systems would prevent the shadow economy in consumer trade. The systems would significantly promote the combating of the shadow economy and the development of electronic payments. The implementation would also provide a basis for the development of digitalisation in companies’ financial administration.

The surveys are based on the Government's strategy for tackling the shadow economy and economic crime in 2016–2020.

Preliminary studies on the suitability and impacts of fiscal point-of-sale systems have been completed, read more (in finnish only):

 

Support for online point-of-sale systems

In spring 2016, the Government issued a strategy for tackling the shadow economy and economic crime and assigned the Finnish Tax Administration to investigate the suitability of fiscal point-of-sale systems for cash-dominated sectors. The Finnish Tax Administration's working group recommended the introduction of fiscal point-of-sale systems in Finland and circulated its report for comments.

More than 50 interest groups and organisations, for example the public administration, public authorities, labour market organisations and device and system suppliers were requested to comment on the preliminary report. Of the 33 bodies that provided a comment, 24 were in favour of the reform, 7 opposed it and 2 did not give an opinion.

The bodies that issued a statement listed the reform’s positive impacts as more effect in combatting the shadow economy and economic crime, higher tax revenues without raising tax rates, improved competition neutrality and furthering the financial administration's digitalisation. Further positive aspects included a lighter administrative burden on businesses and the possibility to respond to the challenges involved in the platform economy. The low-cost system would also be suitable for micro-enterprises.

Some of the bodies that issued a statement listed negative comments, including that the reform would have no impact on the concealment of income and the non-registration of sales in the cash register, that the costs would affect entrepreneurs who trade honestly, that the administrative burden would rise and that the shadow economy would grow.

The estimated growth in tax revenues would be approximately EUR 120–140 million and, if implemented, the reform would create the opportunity to digitalise financial administration processes. The business world has estimated that the benefits and cost savings achieved would be EUR 800 per year. The total benefit of the implementation of the reform would, in the best-case scenario, therefore total one billion euros per year.

Summary of statements in Finnish (PDF 1010 kt)

More information:
Janne Marttinen, Director, tel.: +358 29 512 6066
Marko Niemelä, Assistant Director, tel.: +358 29 512 6070


From an employee into a self-employed individual – is the tax risk dispersed to small companies?

Finnish companies are small

Small entrepreneurs have been in focus in many of the Grey Economy Information Unit’s reports. Nearly half of the limited liablity companies studied were owned and managed by one person. In every second enterprise of a self-employed individual and every third business operating in company form, net sales were below €15,000.

Small entrepreneurs’ impact on tax revenue

Small entrepreneurs’ low income also affects tax revenue. When business operations are divided into smaller entities, the responsibility for the obligations is also divided. The risks of neglecting the obligations may grow as the number of operators increases.

Shadow economy risks are also present in small companies

Some small companies are established to operate in sectors – such as construction – where the risks of shadow economy are high. Quick changes in the business base may be a sign of a healthy development in which resources are being allcoated to more productive growth industries. It may also indicate that one-off companies are used to evade taxes and other public charges.

During the past ten years, the Tax Administration has filed nearly 600 crime reports on companies owned by small-income entrepreneurs. Most of these crime reports have dealt with tax frauds, particularly in the aggravated form.

The operating environment of small companies is described in the following reports:

Uudet yritykset in Finnish (PDF 556 kt)

Pienituloiset organisaatiohenkilöt in Finnish (PDF 540 kt)

Omistajat organisaatiohenkilöinä in Finnish (PDF 320 kt)


A company’s tax debt increases the likelihood of the manager’s personal tax debt

Companies with outstanding employment pension contributions often also have irregularities in the management of their other statutory obligations. Typically they also owe money to a large number of creditors.

Most debtor companies are small enterprises. The risk industries for shadow economy – construction, and the accommodation and restaurant sector – rose to the surface in the analysis of the debtor companies’ lines of business.

The pension contribution debt was studied in the Grey Economy Information Unit. The financial standing and other business contacts of the senior managers of the companies with outstanding employment pension contributions were also investigated.

Read the full report in Finnish (PDF 722 kt)


Suspected crimes detected during tax audits were screened in Raksa

The majority of the people sentenced had utilised more than one company. Other typical features of these crimes included the use of straw men and companies with a short lifecycle, fake sales receipts and falsified invoices. The proceeds of crime were often used to pay wages “under the table.”

In 2008–2012, the Tax Administration implemented a tax control project (the Raksa project) targeting the construction sector. Crime reports made on the basis of tax audits and sentences passed and people sentenced on account of them were studied more closely. In addition, the amounts of damages and the collection of damages were investigated.

Read the full report in Finnish (PDF 564 kt)