Rough justice: German town seizes pet pug to plug unpaid tax debt

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A German town has come under fire for seizing a family’s pet pug to cover an unpaid tax debt, and then selling the dog on eBay.

In a case that has prompted howls of outrage from animal lovers, officials in the town of Ahlen collared pedigree pug ‘Edda’ last year after her owners failed to pay local taxes, including their dog tax.

A court bailiff and two local officials visited the former owner’s property and determined that the prize pooch was the most valuable item on the premises. Edda was then sold on e-commerce platform eBay for €750 (£650) to recover the unpaid tax.

The case recently came to light when the dog’s new owner discovered that Edda had undeclared medical issues needing extensive treatment and sought compensation for the expense – totalling about €1,800. This alerted the local media, and the confiscation is now making headlines across the country.

All dogs in Germany must be licensed and are subject to a Hundesteuer (dog tax). Most European countries moved away from pet taxation in the 20th century, with the UK formally abandoning dog licencing in 1987. But Germany has stuck by the law, possibly because of the revenue it brings in. According to The Local Germany, in Berlin alone, dog owners paid €11m in 'dog tax' in 2016.

Edda’s original owner told local newspaper Ahlener Tageblatt that her three children were still sad about the loss of their dog. However, she admitted that the officials were not barking up the wrong tree – her family had fallen behind on their tax payments.

Frank Merschhaus, a spokesperson for the city of Ahlen, told Ahlener Tageblatt that the incident would be fully investigated. The use of a private eBay account for selling a living creature would also be looked at, he said.

He added that a pet seizure had never happened before, and stressed the “emotionally challenging” nature of financial enforcement work.

In a twist to the tale, this week a spokeswoman from North Rhine-Westphalia state's interior ministry stated that while animals can be seized to pay off their owners' debts, house pets are usually exempt from such action.

The spokesperson added that impounded items should be “publicly auctioned” and not simply sold on eBay through a private account.

Following the statement, Ahlen authorities said on their website that they were prepared to call off the dogs and reverse the sale “if the parties involved are in agreement”.

Owners of other pets, including cats, are not subject to taxation. This has led to some inventive attempts to avoid paying the tax, including one man who attempted to pass off his Spanish water dog as a sheep.

Edda is also not the first canine to run into trouble with the tax authorities. A tax investigation found that former football manager Harry Redknapp’s dog Rosie had a Monaco bank account in her name (although a subsequent court case cleared Redknapp of any wrongdoing).

With thanks to Harry Ross from RossTax for advice on German tax law.

About Tom Herbert

Tom is editor at AccountingWEB, responsible for all editorial content on the site. If you have a story that might interest us or wish to comment on the site's coverage get in touch via the site's private message function or Twitter DM (@AWebTom)

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08th Mar 2019 09:07

Ruff justice surely.

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to stepurhan
08th Mar 2019 12:02

pugnacious definitely

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08th Mar 2019 10:17

I wish you hadn't published this article as it may have given Her Majesty's Robbers and Crooks a new avenue to extract monies from taxpayers. I would not be surprised if David Gauke is speeking to the Chancellor right now about including the power to [***] pets and perhaps hold the taxpayers children for ransom in the Spring Statement coming up. Scoff if you wish but this is the direction of travel which will undoubtedly be accelerated should Mr Corbyn find himself in No 10.

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to Trethi Teg
08th Mar 2019 11:13

At least they would be in good company, considering Ruth Stanier and Theresa Middleton!

Grin!

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to Trethi Teg
08th Mar 2019 11:16

My thinking exactly Trethi Teg!

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By mkowl
08th Mar 2019 11:17

Made me laugh as the wife occasionally looks after a pug that is not only a pain to be around but also incredibly racist

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08th Mar 2019 11:18

Putting the tax issue aside for a minute, the fact the dog now has extensive health problems, would the new owner be able to claim against the German Authorities under some sort of faulty goods act? I imagine this is going to cost the German Authorities a lot more than the lost tax!

I agree with @trethiteg's comment that I can see this coming in the UK. HMRC will turn their closed offices into temporary kennels!!

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08th Mar 2019 11:32

So why not a pets tax, albeit I guess that pet food is subject to VAT. Everything else we enjoy is taxed so why not ownership of an animal.

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to pauljohnston
08th Mar 2019 13:20

pauljohnston wrote:

So why not a pets tax, albeit I guess that pet food is subject to VAT. Everything else we enjoy is taxed so why not ownership of an animal.


Especially for dogs, with the ever-increasing bills for poo disposal and the plastic bags:-

http://www.streetkleen.co.uk/latest-news/uk-dog-poo-becomes-more-mountai...

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08th Mar 2019 12:00

barking mad - someone had to say that, sorry

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08th Mar 2019 16:03

How long before HMRC introduce Making Pets Digital

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to bobhurn
09th Mar 2019 16:18

those microchips were really just a prelude for getting ready for MPD

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to bobhurn
11th Mar 2019 16:08

Tamagotchi beat them to it surely?

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08th Mar 2019 17:27

"First they came for the pet pugs,"
then they came for anyone contesting the accuracy of a book
https://web.archive.org/web/20071013161211/http://www.annefrank.org/cont...

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to moneymanager
11th Mar 2019 12:42

Way off subject here but I don't think it's simply contesting the accuracy that's the problem. It's denying it was genuine, which is very different.
"The Belgian Holocaust denier Siegfried Verbeke lost his appeal against the Anne Frank House and the Anne Frank Fonds. The court ruled that the investigation by the Netherlands Forensic Institute had established that the diary was genuine. That did not mean that Verbeke was not free to doubt this, and to express that doubt. However, this freedom was limited by the legal restrictions that are necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Gratuitously offensive public statements form an unacceptable violation of these rights. Calling the authenticity of the diary into question in a revisionist context had been extremely hurtful to many people, and the brochure therefore went far beyond the limits of the acceptable. With this, Verbeke had acted unlawfully. The court banned Verbeke from distributing the booklet in the Netherlands."

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08th Mar 2019 23:46

So in Germany you can buy dogs on Ebay (you cant in te uk)?

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By tedbuck
09th Mar 2019 16:30

What an inspiring story! I thought that HMRC were the most useless tax department in Europe. How nice to know they have competition.
I don't think I would suggest that they might take up the idea. The level of intelligence in the Treasury is such that they will waste time and money thinking (well perhaps that is too much to expect) about it. Hammond certainly would embrace the idea as it aligns itself with EU thinking.
Am I joking? I only wish I were but these are the people who think that MTD will only cost people £31.75 extra. Cloud cuckoo land isn't in it. One just feels sorry for the ordinary people in HMRC who have to do the bidding of those at the top. No wonder they are leaving.

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