In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, liquidity has become a priority to cope with the imminent economic downturn. It is within this framework that the Swiss Federal Council announced measures on 20 March 2020 to support taxpayers in this time of crisis.

Swiss VAT law provides for the option for tax payers to apply for a payment deferral where payment in due time would result in “significant hardship” for the tax payer (art. 90 VAT Act). Application must be filed with the Swiss Federal Tax Authorities (SFTA) in writing and may be subject to the provision of a financial security. There is no special form for the application and a simple email is considered enough.

Payment deferral with 0% interest

Despite the deferral in place, late payment interest on any amounts due continues to accrue. In order to provide companies with liquidity during the crisis, the Federal Council agreed to reduce the late payment interest to 0% for VAT, customs duties and other consumption taxes – starting 20 March until end of 2020. The reduced interest rate also applies to any debts already due as per this date.

Against this background, taxpayers may be able to defer their VAT payments without triggering any late payment interest until the end of 2020.

Applications are open to all VAT registered entities (Swiss or foreign-based) for all claims arising between 20 March and 31 December 2020, along with claims that arose before 20 March 2020.

See direct communication from Swiss Federal Tax Authorities here.

Conclusion

To avoid cases of hardship, the SFTA announced that they would interpret the substantiation of “significant hardship” generously. Taxpayers in a VAT payable position seem therefore well advised to consider applying for a deferral.

SFTA: Operational continuity

To show their support for affected taxpayers as well, SFTA announced to make every effort to validate and repay any VAT credits as soon as possible, staying below the 60-day threshold wherever feasible within reason.

At the same time, the SFTA intends to continue conducting daily operations – to the extent possible – in a normal manner:

  • However, the SFTA will stop its VAT audits at the premises of the tax payer.
    • An on-site audit may be carried out, if the tax inspectors knows the conditions on site at the company, is able to travel safely, the requirements of the Federal Office of Public Health are complied with and both parties consider the inspection to be reasonable. Alternatively, the taxpayer can provide the documents electronically to the SFTA and the VAT audits are – as far as possible – carried out (or at least prepared) remotely.
    • Assessment notices for completed controls are still sent to the taxable persons. 
    • Where applicable, information may be exchanged electronically via an SFTA-approved USB stick or by email. Should these solutions not be suitable, EY platforms are another way of transmitting data – please reach out for more information.
    • If the crisis makes the audit factually impossible, audited companies may request to postpone it to a later date.
  • Similarly, VAT rulings submitted to the SFTA will be reviewed as usual.
    • As the rules on electronic signature in Switzerland are still debated, we strongly recommend that you ask the SFTA to share their response by e-mail plus post mail.
  • On a side note, it should be noted that foreign entities going through a VAT refund procedure must submit their applications by the usual deadline set at the end of June.

Customs

Beside the payment deferral already mentioned above, Swiss customs introduced some additional measures (more information can be found here):

  • Payments made through ZAZ accounts may be subject to a deferral of 90 or even 180 days from the date of invoice upon application. The request must be filed here. Please be aware that input and import taxes cannot be claimed back before they have been paid.
  • To reduce direct contact with customs officers as much as possible, businesses are asked to use preferred electronical communication e.g. for providing the necessary documents for clearance, general communication and applications. This does not include applications regarding art. 52 Administrative Procedure Act (SR 172.021) and documents which need to be certified by customs.
  • In case the e-dec is not available, the emergency procedure has changed. Businesses can send the “Controllpaper Breakdownsolution” together with the necessary documents per email to Customs, will come back to businesses also via email.
  • The standstill of deadlines on administrative procedures is prolonged to the time between 21 March until and including 19 April 2020. The standstill is also applicable for all deadlines set out by the authorities with end date 19 April 2020.
  • Additionally, the 30-day period of art. 34 Customs act (SR 631.0) stands still from 21 March until 19 April 2020.
  • Certificates of origin as well as preferential declaration issued electronically and copies thereof as well as copies of paper declarations can be used for import declarations for the time being.

Court holidays

In the same vein, the SFTA intends to keep legal assessments and proceedings going. The Federal Council nonetheless announced that court holidays have started on 21 March and will end on 19 April 2020, meaning that no session will be held and official deadlines stand still until then.

What’s next?

The above should be read along with potential federal measures relating to the pandemic curbing, as stricter containment rule would certainly lead to a slowdown of ongoing procedures. We will keep you updated.