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Worth noting

A European company that pays VAT abroad can apply for a refund. To do so, it must submit an electronic refund application by 30 September of the calendar year following the refund period via the electronic portal provided in its own country.

The refund application is considered validly submitted when the company has provided all the information concerning the purchase invoices: name and full address of the supplier, his VAT number, the date and number of the invoice, the taxable amount, the deductible amount of VAT and the nature of the goods and services.

Otherwise, you may have to fight for many, many years to get your VAT refund.

The Court of Justice's response

The Court begins by recalling that the sequential number of an invoice is an important element of the VAT system which uniquely identifies the invoice.

Nevertheless, the absence of such an invoice number in the application for reimbursement cannot lead to the refusal of that application where the German tax authorities had a copy of the purchase invoices. Such a refusal would violate the principle of tax neutrality or the principle of proportionality.

The refund application must be considered validly "submitted" even if the refund application does not contain the sequential number but another number which identifies the invoices (Judgment of 17 December 2020, Y-GmbH, C-346/19).

What can we learn from this judgment?

It is no coincidence that this case concerns yet another dispute with the German tax authorities. The latter has the unfortunate reputation of being, along with the tax authorities of the former Eastern Bloc countries, the most reluctant to refund VAT to foreign companies. All means are used to avoid refunds.

The company submitting a refund application must be extremely rigorous in complying with procedures and particularly in the information it provides in its refund application. A small imprecision or inaccuracy is a guarantee that you will have to fight for many years before you can recover your VAT.