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How long can you submit an invoice retrospectively in Germany?

02.11.2023
How long can you submit an invoice retrospectively in Germany?

There are situations in which entrepreneurs or service providers have forgotten to issue an invoice for a service that has already been provided. In such cases, people often ask: “How long can I invoice retrospectively?” In Germany, this is possible under certain conditions and is subject to some legal framework conditions.

The basics of retroactive invoicing

First of all, it is important to understand that issuing an invoice retrospectively is not the same as issuing an invoice at a later date after the service has been provided. Retroactive invoicing refers to issuing an invoice for a service that has already been provided in the past but has not yet been invoiced.

Under German law, you can issue an invoice retrospectively as long as you comply with the compulsory VAT information. This means that the invoice must contain certain information, such as the tax number, a precise description of the service provided and the addresses of the service provider and customer.

Possible scenarios for retroactive invoicing

There are various situations in which retrospective invoicing can be considered:

  • Service has not yet been billed: If a service has been provided for which an invoice has not yet been issued, it can be invoiced retroactively. In this case, the usual payment deadline is not based on the date the service was rendered, but on the date the invoice was issued.
  • Waiver of invoice and later request: It may happen that the service recipient has initially waived an invoice, but is later requested by the tax office to submit an invoice for a payment already made. In such cases, the invoice should contain the current date as the invoice date and the original date of service provision as the service date. It is also important to note on the invoice that the claim has already been settled.

Tips for correct retroactive invoicing

To ensure that retrospective invoicing is done correctly and does not cause legal problems, the following points should be considered.

  • Accuracy is key: ensure that all details on the invoice are correct and complete. This includes, in particular, the compulsory VAT details.
  • Transparency for the customer: It is advisable to inform the customer about the retrospective invoicing and explain the reason for it. This can avoid misunderstandings and strengthen trust between service provider and client.
  • Obligation to keep records: Like all invoices, invoices issued retrospectively should be kept in accordance with legal requirements. This serves not only tax purposes but also legal purposes.

Invoice not issued in time – what steps should be taken?

According to § 14 UStG, an invoice should be issued no later than 6 months after the service or supply has been provided. This ensures that all services rendered are properly invoiced and the corresponding VAT is correctly paid. Those who miss this deadline risk fines. It is important to note that this rule does not apply to tax-exempt invoices.

Even after the 6-month deadline has passed, claims do not automatically expire. There is no specific limitation period for issuing a retrospective invoice. However, there are some important points that should be considered:

  • It should be clear and traceable that the service invoiced was actually provided.
  • If the general limitation period according to § 194 ff. BGB begins, the claims might no longer be enforceable.

Necessary information on an invoice

In order to be recognised as legitimate and to be able to assert claims, an invoice must contain certain information required by law according to §14 UStG:

  • Clear identification by name and address of the issuer as well as the recipient of the invoice
  • Tax identification details such as tax number and VAT identification number
  • A unique and sequential invoice number
  • Date of issue of the invoice
  • The exact time or period during which the service was provided and a description of that service
  • Amounts listed and the applicable tax rates, shown separately in each case

Incomplete or incorrect information may lead to the payer refusing payment. Furthermore, problems with the tax authorities may arise if the necessary information is missing or incorrect.

What happens if the rules are not followed?

Retroactive invoicing can be useful, but it is essential to comply with the legal requirements. Non-compliance may result in sanctions, penalties or tax disadvantages. It is therefore always advisable to seek legal advice in case of doubt before issuing an invoice retroactively.

Overall, the German legal system offers flexibility for businesses and service providers who forget to issue an invoice on time. However, it is crucial to follow the prescribed rules and regulations to avoid potential legal challenges. It pays to always stay up to date and ensure that retroactive invoicing is done correctly and in the best interest of the company.

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