The ongoing process of digitalisation has contributed to strong growth in the platform economy. Online mediation platforms enable business interactions among consumers in order to exchange goods and services. One of the best-known business models in this sector is the arrangement for accommodation via platforms such as Airbnb. Estimates of ZEW Mannheim show that the rental turnover – in 20 exemplary German cities – via this platform was about 680 million euros in 2018. It is essential that these transactions be treated on an equal footing with other competitors in terms of income and sales tax.
Although the taxation of income generated through Airbnb or other intermediary platforms is clearly regulated by law, the enforcement of the tax claim causes difficulties for tax authorities. In contrast to income from capital assets, for example, where credit institutions are obliged to withhold the taxes due directly from the recipients’ income on behalf of the tax authorities, in the case of income via sharing-economy platforms the tax authorities must rely on the taxpayer’s correct declaration of such income. This obligation to cooperate on the part of taxpayers, which is not always fulfilled – sometimes even unknowingly –, can lead to high tax losses.
However, an experimental study has shown that consumers appreciate the tax honesty of platform providers through increased demand. By credibly demonstrating tax honesty with a kind of quality seal, providers can apparently increase confidence in the services they offer, depending on the personal standards of consumers.
Spengel, Christoph, Christopher Ludwig, Raphael Müller and Ann-Catherin Werner (2020), Sharing Economy – Steuerliche Herausforderungen und Lösungsansätze, ZEW policy brief No. 20-03, Mannheim. Download