A recent legal referral in the EU may be inching the region a little closer to more unity on one small element of bitcoin taxation, but it won’t do much to help global confusion on the matter. Cryptocurrencies are so new that few member states have worked out how to interpret the VAT rules for them.
In June, Sweden asked Europe’s highest court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), whether cryptocurrency exchanges are liable for value-added tax on the fees that they charge for their services. The result could have far-reaching implications for tax in the region.
In Europe, there is a directive on VAT that explains how it should be levied. EU directives are powerful documents, designed as high-level guides that member states can interpret when making their own laws. Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Ireland and Italy haven’t decided whether to charge bitcoin exchanges VAT on the service that they provide. Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia have no regulations on the matter either.
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Some states have firm rulings on the matter of VAT for Bitcoins. The UK was among the first, effectively making bitcoin trading exempt from VAT in a ruling published in March. While exchanges and miners are off the hook, though, the UK says that VAT should be charged when goods and services are sold for bitcoin. Denmark has also said that bitcoin trades will be free of VAT.
Several states have taken an opposing view. Estonia made its own decision about VAT on profits from bitcoin exchange services, levying a 20% tax on those trading bitcoins as a service. It is also charging a 10% tax on profits from selling bitcoins. Poland has imposed a 23% VAT on bitcoin mining profits, although its position on bitcoin exchanges isn’t clear.
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The ECJ could take up to two years to deliver a decision, which can then be used by Sweden in its policy making, explained European tax lawyer Estoban van Goor. The ruling could prompt other countries to change their regulations, he warned – or it could even prompt the EU to pass legislation broadly addressing VAT on cryptocurrency. It’s a potentially existential issue for European cryptocurrency exchanges, said van Goor.
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