The application in the field of tax administration of the rules relating to the suspension of terms and interruption of deadlines for the processing of procedures raises questions that must be resolved as quickly as possible.
In the last hours of 14 March 2020, in view of the serious and exceptional situation caused by the international pandemic caused by COVID-19, Royal Decree 463/2020 was published in the Spanish Official State Gazette (Boletín Oficial del Estado, or BOE), with effect from that same day and for an initial duration of 15 calendar days, declaring a state of alarm throughout the national territory, the competent authority for the adoption of the necessary measures to protect the health and safety of citizens, contain the progression of the disease and strengthen the public health system being the Spanish Government.
It would seem that its content affects exclusively the area of citizen health and safety, but in its third and fourth additional provisions we find regulations that clearly have an impact on tax procedures and whose literal wording is as follows:
“Third additional provision. Suspension of administrative deadlines.
- 1. Terms are suspended and time limits for the processing of procedures of public sector entities are interrupted. The calculation of time limits will be resumed at the moment that this royal decree or, if applicable, its extensions, becomes invalid.
- 2. The suspension of terms and the interruption of deadlines will be applied to the entire public sector as defined in Law 39/2015, of 1 October, on the Common Administrative Procedure of Public Administrations.
- 3. Notwithstanding the above, the competent body may, by means of a reasoned decision, agree to the measures of organisation and instruction strictly necessary to avoid serious damage to the rights and interests of the interested party in the procedure and provided that the interested party agrees, or when the interested party agrees that the time limit should not be suspended.
- 4. This provision shall not affect the procedures and decisions referred to in paragraph 1 where these concern situations closely linked to the facts justifying the state of alert.
Additional provision four. Suspension of limitation and prescription periods.
The periods of limitation and expiry of any actions and rights shall be suspended during the period of validity of the state of alert and, where appropriate, any extensions adopted.
In the first place, terms are suspended and periods are interrupted for the processing of procedures of public sector entities defined in Article 2 of Law 39/2015. The public sector includes the various tax administrations of the State, the Autonomous Communities and the Local Corporations, which, from 14 March, will have the terms of the procedures for the application of taxes and the review in administrative channels suspended or interrupted.
It is clear that this suspension and interruption will affect all the procedures in progress, both those that have been initiated at the request of a party [refund procedures initiated through the presentation of self-assessments or requests, settlement procedures initiated through the presentation of a declaration; procedures derived from requests for deferment of payment or compensation of debts…; appeals for reversal, economic-administrative claims and special procedures…] such as those that have been initiated ex officio by the tax management, inspection and collection bodies [verification of data, limited verification, investigation, compulsion…] raising serious doubts as to whether the effects of this rule should be extended to the deadlines established for compliance with material and formal tax obligations by the taxpayer, such as the deadlines for filing self-assessments, filing information returns, payment of debts settled by the tax administration and filing appeals and claims.
Leaving aside the debate on the nature of the self-assessment tax returns and on whether or not their presentation initiates a tax procedure, it would be a contradiction in terms to understand that the regulatory deadlines established for the presentation of self-assessments are suspended, resulting in a fee to be paid when Royal Decree Law 7/2020 regulates the deferral of the payment of fees, less than 30,000 euros, originating from the presentation of said self-assessments in the period of time between 13 March and 30 May 2020. Extending, what I understand is the spirit of the rule, to the rest of the declaration periods, I interpret that the periods for the presentation of any declaration that involves a self-assessment or tax settlement are not suspended, as well as, the periods for the payment of the quotas resulting from self-assessments or tax settlements are not suspended either. A different matter would be the application of the suspension to the deadlines for the filing of information returns [the very costly VAT’s immediate data delivery], compliance with other formal obligations and the filing of appeals and claims, which, with the current data, is an unknown quantity that is difficult to resolve.
Finally, the periods of limitation of the rights of the Tax Administration [to make assessments, demand payment of debts and impose sanctions] and of the rights of taxpayers [to request the corresponding returns and reimbursements] and the period of expiration of tax proceedings are suspended, although this may be presumed from the moment the period of duration of the procedure is directly suspended.
It is certain that the Tax Administration is considering these same questions, and even some more, and will proceed to clarify them as soon as possible.