How long does the tax office have to audit your tax return?
If you file a tax return, whether as a private individual or as a company, the Belgian tax authorities always have the right to double-check whether the information you reported is accurate and complete. Even if a tax assessment has already been made and you paid your taxes, based on the information you reported, the authorities can still further investigate afterwards.
In this context it is obviously important to know your rights and the specific deadlines within which the authorities can perform a tax audit.
In general, you can be subject to a tax audit for a period of three years. This is to be counted starting from 1 January of the tax year for which taxes are due. For example, your earnings of income year 2019 (tax year 2020) can – under normal circumstances – be audited until 31 December 2022. For income year 2020 (tax year 2021) this must be done before the end of 2023, and so on. For companies who have an accounting year that does not run parallel with the calendar year, the deadline is calculated a bit differently, but here too, the maximum period is in principle three years.
The tax filing can be audited before a tax assessment is made, or even after. This is not relevant. If the authorities come to the conclusion at any point that you owe additional taxes for a given tax year, they will simply issue an additional tax assessment.
If the tax authorities suspect that you committed tax fraud and acted ‘with fraudulent intent’ or ‘with a view to causing damage’, the three-year investigation period is extended by another four years. For income year 2019, the deadline would then be 31 December 2026. Evidently, the burden of proof for this lies with the authorities.
Before extending the regular audit period, the tax authorities must demonstrate that the taxpayer may have committed tax fraud. The authorities do not need clear evidence of any alleged illegal activity, but the mere suspicion of tax fraud is enough to trigger a total 7-year investigation period. In this context, it is important to know that the tax authorities do not consider sporadic negligence, material errors, or general inaccuracies committed in good faith as a sign of ‘tax fraud’ and will in general not result in the tax audit period being extended.
Furthermore, the authorities also have an additional 2-year audit period in case they receive information about your earnings abroad from a foreign tax authority. Even if you do not intend to commit any tax fraud, it is nonetheless recommended that you keep your records organized and at the tax authorities’ disposal for a period of seven years following the taxable period.
TAXPATRIA® can represent you in case you are subject to a tax audit and defend your interests with the tax authorities.