Church tax questionnaire

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So I received the famous 'church tax questionnaire' (Feststellung der Zugehörigkeit zu einer öffentlich rechtlichen Religionsgemeinschaft). I know I indicated 'no religion' on my initial Anmeldung at the Bürgeramt when I moved here in 2015, and I've also indicated that I am 'Religionless' in previous tax declarations from 2015 and 2016. Also, I am married to a German, who did her 'Austritt' from the Catholic church in 2012.

 

I was born in the USA and do not belong to any religion (I'm not baptized in any religion whatsoever). However, I have a problem filling out this questionnaire, since it asks for information such as my place of birth (already present on just about every single form I've filled out in this country) and the address of my parents at the time of my birth. I could just fill it out, but I do feel as if is overreach and a violation of my privacy.

 

I've already sent it to my Steuerberater and am waiting for her to reply. In the meantime, I figured I'd solicit advice from TT. Could I write the Finanzamt a letter and state that I am and always have been 'religionslos' or should I fill in the form they provided and hand in all the info they request? Thanks!

 

PS this is a repost of another post from the ‘Finance and Tax’ forum. I’m posting it here since it seems to be more Berlin specific.

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You are required to cooperate with the authorities on tax matters, so I am guessing you can only ignore this request for information for so long before they get nasty about it. Having said that, I don't know if there are any penalties associated with ignoring these requests. I've only heard of cases where people have filled them in voluntarily or the church found out about the "victim's" baptism but getting the information from their diocese when they were an infant (that's the idea behind asking your parents address when you were born [hint: don't tell them (see below)]).

 

You probably already know that they are trying to find out if you've been baptized in order to slap you with a back-dated religion tax bill. If I were you I'd try to make it as hard as possible for them to find out.

 

I'd tell them everything they already know anyway: Name, address, place of birth, etc. Questions such as your parents' address at the time of your birth I'd simply answer with "UNKOWN".

 

If you tell them in the form that you've been baptized in the catholic faith, that's it: they'll have it in writing from you and they'll send you the bill.

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Thanks Smaug. I guess I can just send them my parent’s address at the time of my birth (it’s on my birth certificate, which is already on file with several Amts). They can write whoever they want, they won’t get the answer they want. I’m only worried about what comes next if I comply, do I get a new letter from the Finanzamt asking for a letter from all the churches from all the religious denominations near the address of my parents at the time of my birth, confirming I was never a ‘member’?

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1 minute ago, Brockman said:

 I’m only worried about what comes next if I comply, do I get a new letter from the Finanzamt asking for a letter from all the churches from all the religious denominations near the address of my parents at the time of my birth?

 

No, But, they'll probably write to the local diocese and ask them if you were baptized there. If you were, you can only hope they get ignored.

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I doubt that they will try to contact churches in the us (where Brockman seems to be from), if it were Ireland or Italy then there is a high probability of there being a catholic baptism and the catholic church is (to some extent) monolithic and can easily get the info.  The us isnt really like that, lots of people are members of a huge number of loosly connected churches many of which wouldnt "qualify" for church tax.

 

41 minutes ago, Brockman said:

do I get a new letter from the Finanzamt asking for a letter from all the churches from all the religious denominations near the address of my parents at the time of my birth, confirming I was never a ‘member’?

 

No.

 

3 hours ago, Brockman said:

Could I write the Finanzamt a letter and state that I am and always have been 'religionslos' or should I fill in the form they provided and hand in all the info they request? Thanks!

 

I dont know for sure, but in my experience the Finanzamt are reasonable about this kind of thing so a copy of your spouses Kirchenaustritt and a note saying that you were born and remain non religious might well satisfy them.  German burocracy is notorious for wanting exactly the right bits of paper filled in exactly the right way, but in my limited dealings with them the FInanzamt are much more interested in the info than the exact form the info takes.

I know at least one person (Russian/Candian if that matters) who simply called them and said they werent religious and that seemed to be adequate though I dont know for sure that they didnt eventually follow up some point after I lost contact.

 

That said, the path of least resistance is just to do as Smaug says and fill it in as minimally as possible and then its just done and you can forget it.

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Thanks for taking the time to reply. You both mentioned Catholics. Is this a catholic thing? I read that only 30% of Germans are catholic.  Meaning, the Kirchensteuerstelle is only interested in hunting down Catholics? Do they also look for Protestants, who make up the majority? I figured they’d look for low hanging fruit, and Catholics only make up 20% of the people who practice a religion in the US.

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Not just catholics, but the Catholic church is one thing worldwide whereas protestantism is significantly less centralised.

 

So a catholic is a catholic and pays the tax whereas someine who is a member of any given overseas protestant church is less likely to be one of the churches who collect church tax.

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All I can say is when in Rome. I know this is really uncomfortable as an American, but it is a cost of doing business. I was raised Catholic and even confirmed in the Catholic church, but I filled out my questionnaire saying I am not a religious adherent because I am not. No one ever called my parents or tried to find anything out. You'll never hear about this again once you get the form to them. They just have to check a box. Tracking down your past would be above the pay-grade.

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3 minutes ago, AlexTr said:

All I can say is when in Rome. I know this is really uncomfortable as an American, but it is a cost of doing business. I was raised Catholic and even confirmed in the Catholic church, but I filled out my questionnaire saying I am not a religious adherent because I am not. No one ever called my parents or tried to find anything out. You'll never hear about this again once you get the form to them. They just have to check a box. Tracking down your past would be above the pay-grade.

 

But they do hunt people down!  The Archdiocese of Berlin has a special department.  But it is mostly only Berlin, and they go for the easy targets, such as Irish or Polish, etc who tick the "no relgion" box.

 

http://www.exberliner.com/features/ask-hans-torsten-church-tax/

http://www.exberliner.com/features/opinion/germanys-greedy-churches

 

 

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6 minutes ago, snowingagain said:

 

But they do hunt people down!  The Archdiocese of Berlin has a special department.  But it is mostly only Berlin, and they go for the easy targets, such as Irish or Polish, etc who tick the "no relgion" box.

 

http://www.exberliner.com/features/ask-hans-torsten-church-tax/

http://www.exberliner.com/features/opinion/germanys-greedy-churches

 

 

 

Maybe it is different for EU citizens since almost all of the churches here retain membership registries. In the US, no church I ever attended as a child maintained a membership registry - unless it was a Southern Baptist Church and those folks, well...

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No, the RC church in Ireland has no central register of baptisms, it is all held at the parish level.   But they still managed to find RC baptism records.  I read somewhere that the church originally set up this detective department to track down  RC from the DDR avoiding paying tax after reunion by stating they had no religtion.  So, when they had found all of them, they had the clever idea to go after unsuspecting foreigners.  It must be quite a lot of work, but I guess a lot RC get baptised very close to where they were born.

 

One angle people have tried in Berlin, is to object to the local authorities sending private information to the RC church in Berlin, under data protection rules.

 

https://www.ibka.org/presse15_datenschutzverletzung_zugunsten_der_kirchen

 

Regarding targetting a US citizen living in Berlin, I wonder if the OP has a name that sounds very RC, though not actually being one.  Benedict Jean Paul O´Donoghue or Jesus Santiago...

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The experience of one friend in particular makes me concerned. This person was born in Italy, and is and was born Jewish, but he is non-practicing. He was assumed Catholic by the Finanzamt, probably since he was born in Italy, even though he put 'religionslos' on the registration form at the Bürgeramt. He was advised by a lawyer to do the Austritt from the Catholic church just to avoid paying the tax in the future, since that was easier than proving by state decree that he was not Catholic. So he did, and now he is in a legal battle with the Finanzamt to get the church tax money back. It's been going on for over a year now. He is about to give up and write-off the 8 months of church tax.

 
I am not concerned about the Finanzamt contacting authorities / archdioceses back home, since I have never been baptized into any religion (thank god, sorry, couldn't resist). What I am concerned about is that, if I provide this questionnaire, what comes next? They take it upon themselves to determine that I am lying and start charging me church tax, then say I need to prove I am not in a religion, and that leads me to do an Austritt, in which case, I'd be liable for paying Church tax for my 'pre-Austritt' time in Germany?
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18 minutes ago, Brockman said:

The experience of one friend in particular makes me concerned. This person was born in Italy, and is and was born Jewish, but he is non-practicing. He was assumed Catholic by the Finanzamt, probably since he was born in Italy, even though he put 'religionslos' on the registration form at the Bürgeramt. He was advised by a lawyer to do the Austritt from the Catholic church just to avoid paying the tax in the future, since that was easier than proving by state decree that he was not Catholic. So he did, and now he is in a legal battle with the Finanzamt to get the church tax money back. It's been going on for over a year now. He is about to give up and write-off the 8 months of church tax.

 
I am not concerned about the Finanzamt contacting authorities / archdioceses back home, since I have never been baptized into any religion (thank god, sorry, couldn't resist). What I am concerned about is that, if I provide this questionnaire, what comes next? They take it upon themselves to determine that I am lying and start charging me church tax, then say I need to prove I am not in a religion, and that leads me to do an Austritt, in which case, I'd be liable for paying Church tax for my 'pre-Austritt' time in Germany?

 

Dude, I get what you are saying, but relax.  As discussed above, ireland, poland and italy are special cases because they are (lets not argue over the numbers) very heavily catholic and people are assumed to be catholic.  This doesnt apply to you.

 

Your jewish friend got screwed over by the system, and that shouldnt have happened.  But it wont happen to you.

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Hallo Brockmann, if I understand what you write correctly you have already at some stage provided your place of birth and your family details to authorities? If so, they will have all your details of places of birth etc. file for their research. It is easier if you simply fill out the details again on the form.  Be transparent and then you will have nothing to be concerned about. If e.g. your parents were baptised and you were not it should be relatively straightforward to get proof that you were never baptised by contacting the local parish. As information e.g. the Catholic Church a few years ago made some changes to leaving the church   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formal_act_of_defection_from_the_Catholic_Church. However, it is possible formally in Germany http://www.kirchenaustritt.de. There are also many religions and members of reliougous communities where you do not have to pay church taxes in Germany. 

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Thanks again zwiebelfischOf course, my concern has to do with the fact that tens of thousands of EUR are at stake! I'll wait for my Steuerberaterin to reply, but I suppose she'll say I'll just need to fill it in and send it as requested. Thanks again everyone for your input.

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1 hour ago, Brockman said:

I am not concerned about the Finanzamt contacting authorities / archdioceses back home, since I have never been baptized into any religion

 

Nothing to worry about then. The burden of proof with regard to belonging to a religion that collects church tax is on them, not you to prove the opposite. The proof comes by either you telling them that you were baptized or them getting the information from where you were baptized. You can't be assumed to be Catholic or Lutheran in the absence of proof that you are neither. How do you prove the negative that you were never baptized anyway? You local diocese might write you a letter saying that you were never baptized there, but you could've been baptized somewhere else? Proving that you are neither Catholic nor Protestan is like proving that there's no teapot orbiting Mars.

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1 hour ago, Brockman said:

was born Jewish, but he is non-practicing

 

Doesn't matter, if he was Jewish he owed Kirchensteuer to the Jüdische Gemeinde Berlin: http://www.steuer-forum-kirche.de/kisto-sis-berlin.htm

 

1 hour ago, Brockman said:

He was advised by a lawyer to do the Austritt from the Catholic church

 

That was bad advice, since he was never Catholic in the first place. He should have told him to leave the Jewish Gemeinde!

The way things are now, should they ever find out he's Jewish, the Jewish Gemeinde will backcharge him Kirchensteuer from the date he moved to Germany.

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50 minutes ago, Brockman said:

Of course, my concern has to do with the fact that tens of thousands of EUR are at stake!

C'mon, don't be silly. You moved here in 2015.

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5 minutes ago, LukeSkywalker said:

C'mon, don't be silly. You moved here in 2015.

 

I was wondering the same thing but for all we know the OP might have seven-figure yearly income. ;)

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Maybe he erroneously thinks Kirchensteuer is 9% of his taxable income, and not just 9% of his income tax amount.

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