• 10 October 2013

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    University students help low-income taxpayers process their tax returns

    Last week, the first Tax Support Centre (NAF) was inaugurated in Costa Rica; it offers an innovative experience in tax education, which first began in Brazil in 2011 through the Receita Federal. The FIIAPP supports the implementation of this initiative in other countries in Latin America – Costa Rica being the first – through the EUROsociAL Programme. Clóvis Belbute Peres, tax auditor for Brazil’s Receita Federal explains the advantages of the NAF in this article.

    All countries’ tax systems are complex for various reasons that do not need to be enumerated in this article. Nevertheless, it is important to reflect on the consequences of this complexity and how to overcome it.

    The most evident consequence is people’s rejection of their tax obligations. Citizens don’t trust the tax administrations and this psychological perception is becoming a real communication barrier for poorly educated or low-income citizens. Citizens with little formal education and micro-business owners often have difficulties complying with their simple tax obligations.

    The analysis of this tax externality led to the concept of the Accounting and Tax Support Centres (NAF). This initiative from Brazil’s Receita Federal promotes the creation of student groups in the Faculty of Accounting Sciences to investigate tax issues and help marginalized communities with basic tax problems. This initiative is similar to the Centres for Legal Practice in the Faculty of Law and was inspired by the LITC model (Low Income Taxpayer Clinics) from the United States.

    The NAF therefore have two complementary functions. Firstly, they complement students’ education with specific studies in tax-related issues. With the support of the tax administration and other organisations, the students can study complex tax subjects in groups and disseminate this knowledge throughout the rest of the university. Secondly, the students are able to help those in need, thereby contributing to their community and being trained as citizens.

    There are clear benefits for the community. Sometimes, people with low literacy levels can feel embarrassed or frustrated when trying to explain their problems to a standard service department at the tax administration offices, but they are more comfortable speaking with students or teachers. There are also obvious benefits for the universities and the tax administrations. The administrations are able to get closer to future accountants, helping them develop as professionals. The universities are better able to comply with their academic mission and are better integrated into their communities.

    The first NAF began operating in April of 2011 in Brazil; today there is a network of 34 centres in various Brazilian universities. Recently, with the support of the FIIAPP, through EUROsociAL II’s Finance Department, the initiative has been shared with other countries, such as Costa Rica, which has just inaugurated the first NAF outside Brazil.

    Clóvis Belbute Peres is a tax auditor for the Receita Federal of Brazil

    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the sole responsibility of its author.