Tax Authority to return millions deducted from pensions

Israel Tax Authority  credit: Eyal Izhar

In the settlement of a class action, the Israel Tax Authority has admitted unlawfully taxing tax-exempt pension payments.

The Israel Tax Authority has admitted that it unlawfully collected tax from tax-exempt pension payments received by pensioners between 2012 and 2019, and it is now obliged to return the money to them. The illegally collected sums amount to tens of millions of shekels annually.

The Tax Authority's unlawful conduct was exposed in a lawsuit, and a request that the suit should be recognized as a class action, filed by Shabtai Shabtai, a retired person who receives a pension, through Adv. Adi Leibowitz. The claim stated that the Tax Authority unlawfully instructed entities making pension payments - employers, provident funds, and others - not to award the tax exemption for a qualifying pension to anyone who had not presented approval in advance from the tax inspector, despite the fact that there was no real justification for this requirement, and despite the fact that the law stated that tax should not be deducted at source from an exempt pension.

In a ruling giving court approval to a settlement in which the Tax Authority admitted having collected tax unlawfully, Central District Court judge Avi Gorman said, "Income determined by the legislator to be exempt from tax must not be taxed. The recognition of property rights makes it obligatory to terat exempt income carefully, and not set up obstacles to the exemption that are unnecessary and unjustified. Even a paternalistic concern to ensure that the taxpayer is aware of all his rights cannot justify taxation of exempt income."

The court made a NIS 100,000 award to the bringer of the class action, and awarded costs of NIS 1 million plus VAT to his counsel.

The claim concerned amendment 190 to the Income Tax Ordinance, which is mainly to do with expanding tax benefits given under section 9a of the ordinance when pension savings are withdrawn by taxpayers who have reached retirement age. In amendment 190, the legislator considerably enlarged the exemption given to a qualifying pension, with the aim of securing pensioners' rights in a reality in which life expectancy is rising and pension savings accumulated during a person's working life need to finance a longer period of retirement. As a result of the unjustified requirements imposed by the Tax Authority, however, a substantial portion of tax-exempt pensions, amounting to tens of millions of shekels, did not end up in the hands of the pensioners, but was instead paid to the Tax Authority as income tax.

Following the lawsuit, the Tax Authority changed its instructions and told all pension payers to give the exemption without the need for approval from the tax inspector, but on the basis of the pensioner's signature on a short declaration only. The Tax Authority thus accepted Shabtai Shabtai's claim.

According to the findings presented by the two sides, there are about 10,000 pensioners who, as a result of the Tax Authority's original instructions, had the tax-exempt element of their pensions taxed at source.

In the request for approval of the settlement presented by the Tax Authority and Shabtai Shabtai, the amount of the tax rebate due to pensioners for the two years preceding the filing of the lawsuit, 2016-2017, is NIS 45.9 million. The amount unlawfully collected in 2018-2019 is estimated at a further NIS 80 million.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 2, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

Israel Tax Authority  credit: Eyal Izhar
Israel Tax Authority credit: Eyal Izhar
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