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New Federal Ministry of Finance circular on the obligation to keep records and maintain a cash register

The German Act for the Protection Against Manipulation of Digital Basic Records, from 22.12.2016, (the so-called “2016 Cash Register Act”) led to the creation of Section 146a of the Fiscal Code (Abgabenordnung, AO) – a regulatory provision for accounting and record-keeping using electronic record-keeping systems. In the meantime, on 17.6.2019, the Federal Ministry of Finance (Bundesministerium der Finanzen, BMF) published an application decree for Section 146a AO where the requirements together with the Cash Register Anti-Tampering Ordinance (Kassensicherungsverordnung, KassenSichV), from 26.9.2017, have been clearly specified.

The stipulations under Section 146a AO

Section 146a AO regulates, in particular, the requirements relating to electronic record-keeping systems. The intention and the purpose of the norm are to minimise the risk of tampering with electronic record-keeping systems. Therefore, from 1.1.2020, all taxpayers that generally record business transactions or other events via such electronic record-keeping systems will have to use a system that logs every situation that has to be recorded separately, completely, correctly, in a timely and in an orderly manner. In the process, all electronic record-keeping systems and digital records will have to be protected against tampering by means of a technical security system (so-called TSS). The TSS will have to consist of a security module, a storage medium and a standardised digital interface and be certified by the Federal Office for Information Security (Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik, BSI). Furthermore, Section 146a AO basically also includes an obligation for the taxpayer to issue a receipt as well as a disclosure requirement.

Application decree for Section 146a AO

The circular contains, in particular, general definitions of terms, the substantive and temporal scope of application, requirements relating to the TSS, explanatory notes about the obligation to issue receipts and the disclosure requirement as well as statements about the legal consequences of a breach of Section 146a AO. The following aspects are of particular importance.

(1) Definition of an electronic record-keeping system – Electronic record-keeping systems, which have to have a TSS, specifically include electronic or computer-based cash register systems or cash registers within the meaning of Section 1 KassenSichV and tablet-based cash register systems or software solutions.

(2) Obligation to issue receipts – Taxpayers have to make receipts available to their customers in electronic or paper form, within the meaning of Section 6 Kassen-SichV, immediately after a transaction has occurred. The requirements for receipts and the issue of receipts have now been specified.

(3) Disclosure requirement from 1.1.2020 – Every taxpayer that uses electronic record-keeping systems has to report this to the competent tax office, using an officially prescribed form, within a month of acquiring such a system or removing it from service. Mandatory reporting of all cash registers acquired prior to 1.1.2020 will thus have to be completed by 31.1.2020.

(4) Legal consequences – Compliance with Section 146a AO cannot be enforced through an administrative act or compulsory measures, however, non-compliance with the obligation to issue receipts and the disclosure requirement could entail sanctions.

Outlook

There is now only still a little more than two months time left to retrofit the more than two million cash register systems concerned in Germany. However, there are currently still no cash register systems available on the market that have been certified by the BSI. Should a certified system still become available on the market in the next few months it is likely that there would be extreme supply bottlenecks.

It is thus highly doubtful that the retrofitting could be carried out in good time. Therefore, in order not to blame taxpayers for a situation over which they have no control, it is hoped that the BMF will respond and extend the deadline for retrofitting.

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