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VAT invoice number query referred to the European Court of Justice

In February 2019, the German Federal Fiscal Court (Bundesfinanzhof, BFH) referred a question to the European Court of Justice (BFH, XI R 13/17). The issue was about how the “invoice number” should be interpreted. The German Federal Fiscal Court has doubts as to what information is required from a taxable person established in another member state to identify the “invoice number” in a VAT refund application. The applicant asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for clarification in this respect.

Under EU law, a taxable person not established in the member state of refund must submit an electronic refund application, stating, inter alia, the date and number of each invoice. The refund application must be submitted to the member state in which the taxable person is established by 30 September of the calendar year following the refund period at the latest, and the application shall be deemed to have been submitted only if, inter alia, the applicant has supplied all the information required under Article 8 (Article 8(2d) or Article 15(1) of Directive 2008/9/EC).

In the case of dispute, the VAT refund claim of an Austrian-based applicant (a freight forwarder) was submitted electronically to the German Bundeszentralamt für Steuern (BZSt) via the portal set up by the Austrian tax authorities. The applicant requested a VAT refund on fuel invoices. In the official application, the applicant did not report the invoice number shown in the respective invoice, but another reference number that was also shown in the respective invoice and recorded in the applicant’s accounts. The German BZSt rejected the VAT refund because according to their view, the application was incomplete. Since the invoice number was not mentioned, the application did not comply with the statutory requirements.

The Federal Fiscal Court, however, takes the view that the reference number enables the invoices to be unambiguously identified. The application received by the BZSt within the prescribed period might have been incorrect but not incomplete and therefore not invalid. Consequently, the applicant was allowed to make further clarifications after the expiration of the filing deadline, i.e. assign the reference numbers to the relevant invoice numbers. The judges considered this as a possible addition to the information, irrespective of the period for lodging an application. The ECJ has now been asked to clarify whether a reference number shown next to an invoice number is sufficient to meet the criteria of Article 8(2d) of Directive 2008/9/EC.


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