The good news came around noon on Monday: “Due to technical maintenance work, www.elster.de will probably not be available after 1 p.m. The maintenance work is expected to be completed in the course of the afternoon. We apologize for the inconvenience.” Many taxpayers had days of uncertainty behind them.
Because the “Mein Elster” portal, in which most of the routes to the tax office were digitally combined a year ago, had given up the ghost. It had collapsed. Not evident to everyone. Anyone who read the comments on Twitter in the past few days found a few happy people who claimed that they could have reported this or that online.
But for an innumerable number of taxpayers, it was said at least from Friday: nothing works at “Elster”. The website of the platform operated by the financial authorities of the federal states read over the whole weekend: “Due to the enormous interest in the forms for the property tax reform, there are currently restrictions on availability. We are already working hard to be able to provide you with the quality you are used to as quickly as possible.”
Anyone who believed that the registration for the new property tax did not apply to all those who wanted to submit an income tax return or the sales tax return, which is always due for companies on the 10th of a month, was quickly mistaken: the extensive lockdown affected everyone. Logging in was a gamble with supposedly relatively few winners.
When the administration put the optimistic message on the website on Monday afternoon that the problem would be solved, it was still unclear what actually caused the collapse of the nationwide online tax reporting office. After all, the disruption was so massive that the website went offline for maintenance. It was only activated again around 5 p.m. The Bavarian State Tax Office is responsible for keeping “Elster” running.
A spokesman for Berlin’s Senator for Finance, Daniel Wesener, told the Tagesspiegel that the bottlenecks were due to the Elster portal being used “unprecedented on this scale”. At the weekend there were far more than 100,000 simultaneous accesses.
We very much regret the restrictions and disruptions. “We are working flat out to find a solution to the technical difficulties. Specifically, it’s about upgrading the hardware.” In Berlin, it is assumed “that the system will be working properly again this week”. A hacker attack or any other threat to IT security can be ruled out. “The security of the data was and is guaranteed.”
According to the German tax union – which represents the employees of the financial administration – the collapse was caused by defective hardware. Union leader Florian Köbler told Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk that the component that distributes the load between the individual servers failed on Thursday. Colleagues would then have had to distribute access to Elster manually. In normal operation, there are around 15,000 simultaneous registrations, which jumped to over 120,000 at the weekend. According to Köbler, the defective component should be replaced on Monday. The situation will normalize by Tuesday at the latest.
Concerns that taxpayers would have disadvantages due to the failure of “Elster” are unfounded, according to the spokesman. “Users who are currently unable to submit their documents on time due to the disruption are asked to contact their tax office. The possibility for individual solutions is fundamentally given.”
If there are also default penalties in individual cases, the tax office will be accommodating in the reimbursement. “Furthermore, it is pointed out that taxpayers can also use the tax forms provided by the tax offices in urgent cases.”
If you tried to log in at the weekend in vain because of income tax or property tax, you don’t have to worry about missing the deadline for the time being. Due to the corona pandemic, the latest submission date this year is October 31st (not July 31st, as some taxpayers apparently believed). And the forms for recording the new property tax only have to be submitted by the end of October.
Quite a few property taxpayers expressed annoyance in online forums about the fact that they now have to enter data that is actually known to the administration again via “Elster”. In Berlin in particular, resentment was added because the tax authorities had not written to the taxpayers separately.
Wesener’s spokesman referred to the owner’s obligation to cooperate in the property tax declaration, which also includes the provision of all relevant data. “The survey is necessary in order to update the existing database – and also to digitize it. As part of the current main determination, a data comparison is carried out. In this way, incorrect data should be corrected, obsolete data deleted and incomplete data completed.”
So far, the property tax has been calculated using unit values. In the “old” federal states and the former western part of Berlin, the values from 1964 were used as a basis. For the “new” federal states as well as the former eastern part of Berlin and western Staaken, on the other hand, taxation was based on the values of 1935.
In contrast to some non-city states, no separate requests to register for the new property tax were sent by letter in Berlin. In these countries, according to information from the tax authorities, the taxpayers were informed of their unit value file numbers.
This was therefore not necessary in Berlin, because the property tax is levied here by the responsible tax office, with the tax number being a fixed part of the respective correspondence. It is therefore known to taxpayers. “For this reason, the state of Berlin has not sent any separate requests by letter. In addition, there are considerable costs for the preparation and sending of written requests,” said the spokesman for the statement.
The information was therefore published on the website of the financial administration. Regarding the consequences for defaulting property taxpayers who missed the October 31 deadline, the spokesman said: “Owners who will not have complied with the request by the deadline will be contacted by the tax administration with a friendly reminder and the submission of a declaration on property tax.
Citizens can use “Elster” to submit their tax returns electronically. This year, the online portal “Mein Elster” will replace the previous “Elster Form” program. Nationwide, 28.2 million income tax returns were transmitted with “Elster” last year.
The property tax must be recalculated after a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court. Millions of house, apartment and property owners have therefore had to submit a kind of second tax return since July by the end of October at the latest.