Tasks that assist taxation should be statutorily regulated
Deputy-Ombudsman Maija Sakslin is of the view that the Ministry of Finance should take legislative drafting measures so that the right to entrust the Tax Administration's optical form-reading service to a private company would be provided for in an Act. Since the task is not taken care of by virtue of an Act, there is no obligation in the reading service to comply with the general laws of administration and the persons in the company who handle taxation data are not bound by official responsibility for their actions.
The Deputy-Ombudsman took the legality of the Tax Administration's action under investigation on her own initiative when it had emerged in connection with examining a complaint that the Tax Administration had entrusted optical reading of tax reports to Itella Oyj (formerly Finland Post). The service was performed under a contract between the Tax Administration and Itella and on the basis of the processing regulations relating to reading of data.
In the optical reading service, the information that persons liable for tax provide on their tax report forms is converted into electronic data and transferred to the Tax Administration?s systems to serve as the foundation for levying taxes. In the phase where tax reports are being received, the reading service handles over 20,000 reports per day.
In Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin's perception, the optical reading service is an auxiliary function associated with the performance by an authority of its statutory tasks. A public administrative task of this kind can be entrusted to a private company only under an Act or by virtue of one. Now, however, this matter is not regulated in an Act.
Whether an auxiliary function associated with levying tax can be entrusted to a private company is a question that concerns interpretation of the Constitution. Appraisal of the prerequisites stipulated in the Constitution is a task for the legislator and in the final analysis the Eduskunta's Constitutional Law Committee.
The Tax Administration has stated in the report it gave the Deputy-Ombudsman that levying tax is a significant exercise of public power and considered it important that an adequate foundation of statutory provisions is in place to regulate the tasks of also those who perform related auxiliary functions.
The Tax Administration was criticised in complaints reaching the Deputy-Ombudsman for errors in taxation data. Tax account correction notifications made by one complainant were both read optically at Itella and processed manually at the Tax Administration, with the result that the errors were multiplied. The balance of the tax account was incorrect, although the complainant had met her obligations and tried to correct the errors.
In another case, dividend data belonging to the complainant's company had been shown on a pre-filled form belonging to another company, which had nothing to do with the complainant. The Tax Administration had corrected the error, but had not investigated what had caused it or expressed its regret to the complainant.
Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin takes the view that it would appear to be unclear in the Tax Administration who is responsible vis-à-vis those liable for tax when errors are made in the optical reading service. When the errors have happened in the optical reading service, Tax Administration units have taken the view that they can not influence the errors that are made in the optical reading service and therefore are not responsible for them.
The Deputy-Ombudsman has asked the Tax Administration and the Ministry of Finance to inform her, by 31.10.2012, of what measures comments have given rise to.
Additional info will be provided by Senior Legal Adviser Ulla-Maija Lindström, tel. +358 (0)9 4321.