Compliance with tax laws

How does the tax authority verify compliance with the tax laws and ensure timely payment of taxes? What is the typical procedure for the tax authority to review a tax return and how long does the review last?

The tax authority verifies compliance by reviewing filed tax returns and conducting field examinations, which are audits conducted at the taxpayer's site. While reviews are generally handled by tax offices, corporations with over ¥100 million in capital and foreign corporations are subject to review by regional taxation bureaux.

If a review reveals a failure to file tax returns or underreporting of the tax amount, the taxpayer is usually contacted by a tax officer and instructed to file a return stating the correct tax amount and paying the unpaid tax (with a penalty, if applicable). In other cases, taxpayers are subject to field examinations that are conducted at their site. The National Tax General Rule Act requires, in principle, the tax authority to give the taxpayer notification before the tax officer’s visit to the taxpayer’s site. A field examination can last from a few days to more than a year, depending on various factors, such as the scale of the business operated by the examined taxpayer. A field examination generally involves studying the books, accounting records and inventories of the taxpayer, and interviewing the taxpayer’s employees. These interviews are conducted under the power to access the relevant book records and other materials and to ask questions. In field examinations of business entities or individuals operating businesses, the examiners investigate all income tax concurrently, including tax that should have been withheld, corporation tax and consumption tax. At the end of a field examination, the tax authority issues a disposition to impose the tax that the taxpayer should have reported in the returns for the previous years, or a document that no disposition is imposed on the taxpayer.

Types of taxpayer

Are different types of taxpayers subject to different reporting requirements? Can they be subjected to different types of review?

The reporting requirements for all taxpayers are generally the same. However, upon approval of the head of the relevant tax office, taxpayers can file ‘blue returns’ for income tax and corporation tax. A taxpayer who has received approval to file a blue return is granted certain privileges, such as a deduction of ¥100,000 or up to ¥650,000 from the amount of income. At the same time, individual taxpayers who file blue returns are obliged to attach their balance sheet, income statement and other documents containing sufficient details to calculate their income, to the returns. In contrast, individual taxpayers who file white returns (ie, tax returns that are not blue returns) are only required to submit documents explaining their gross income and deductible expenses.

There is no substantial difference between reviews of blue returns and white returns. Approval to file a blue return places an obligation on the taxpayer, which is stricter than that imposed on white return taxpayers, to keep book records of its transactions in the manner specified by the relevant ministerial ordinances. The tax authority can request the records from blue return taxpayers in tax audits. In this sense, taxpayers filing blue returns have more obligations at a review than those filing white returns.

Requesting information

What types of information may the tax authority request from taxpayers? Can the tax authority interview the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s employees? If so, are there any restrictions?

The National Tax General Rule Act provides that the tax authority may ask the taxpayer and certain persons specified by the Act (eg, persons to whom the taxpayer is or was obligated to pay money) to submit or present the relevant book records and other materials, which generally include business books and records, financial information and copies of transaction documents. The tax authority is likely to interpret the phrase ‘book records and other materials’ as authorising the auditors to access a wide range of information. However, the power to request information from taxpayers is restricted by the requirement of necessity.

The Act empowers the tax authority to ask questions to the taxpayer and the persons specified by the Act. Under this rule, the tax authority can interview the taxpayer and its employees. As with the power to access book records and other materials, the power to ask questions is also subject to the requirement of necessity.

Available agency action

What actions may the agencies take if the taxpayer does not provide the required information?

The agencies are prohibited from intruding on any private premises or auditing any materials without the consent of the taxpayer. However, a taxpayer is punishable by imprisonment for up to one year or a fine of up to ¥500,000 if the taxpayer fails to provide an answer, provides a false answer or obstructs an audit. If the matter concerns tax evasion, which is subject to criminal punishments, the agencies can obtain court approval to access private premises or materials without the taxpayer’s consent.

Collecting overdue payments

How may the tax authority collect overdue tax payments following a tax review?

The general process to collect defaulted tax involves the tax authority first sending a collection letter to the taxpayer within 50 days from the original due date. If a payment is not made despite the demand letter, a disposition for non-payment will be instituted. The tax authority will then initiate a procedure to collect the defaulted tax if full payment of the tax due is not made within 10 days after the notice. Without the need for a court permit, the tax authority is allowed to seize the defaulting taxpayer’s assets (including claims to a third party, such as a claim for funds in a bank account), convert the assets into money and seize the proceeds derived from the sales of assets. Such money raised is then used to pay the defaulted tax and any remaining amount is returned to the taxpayer or distributed to other creditors of the taxpayer.


In what circumstances may the tax authority impose penalties?

If a taxpayer underreports its payable tax amount, fails to file a tax return by the due date or fails to pay withholding tax by the due date, the tax authority will impose additional tax on the taxpayer as a penalty. In the case of tax evasion, additional aggravated tax will be imposed instead of the general additional taxes. Furthermore, a taxpayer who has violated tax laws may be subject to imprisonment of not more than 10 years, a fine of not more than the amount of tax evasion, or both.

How are penalties calculated?

The additional tax for underreporting is 10 per cent of the difference between the unreported and reported taxes (the ‘Difference’) plus 5 per cent of the difference between the Difference and the larger of ¥500,000 or the reported tax. In the case of a failure to file a tax return, the additional tax is 15 per cent of the unreported tax plus 5 per cent of the difference between the unreported tax and ¥500,000. The additional tax for a failure to pay withholding tax is 10 per cent of the unpaid amount. If a taxpayer files a tax return with the correct tax amount (after filing an earlier erroneous tax return) without having predicted a disposition by the tax authority, additional tax is reduced or not imposed according to the situation of the taxpayer.

For tax evasion, the rate of additional tax as a penalty is increased to 35 per cent (in the case of underreporting tax or not paying withholding tax), or 40 per cent (in the case of non-filing).

What defences are available if penalties are imposed?

Penalties are not imposed if there are reasonable grounds for the taxpayer’s non-compliance with the laws. For example, if a certain interpretation of the laws has been customarily established in practice and the interpretation is later found by the court to be a misinterpretation, a taxpayer may be regarded as having reasonable grounds for underreporting the tax amount due to the misinterpretation. However, mere misunderstanding of the laws or reliance on professional advice (eg, legal or accounting advice) does not constitute reasonable grounds.

Criminal consequences

Are there criminal consequences that can arise as a result of a tax review? Are these different for different types of taxpayers?

Two major types of criminal consequences can arise from a tax review. The first is criminal punishment for obstructing a tax audit. A taxpayer who has failed to provide an answer, provided a false answer or obstructed an audit is punishable by imprisonment for up to one year or a fine of up to ¥500,000.

The second is criminal punishment for tax evasion. If a tax review reveals potential tax evasion, the National Tax Agency (NTA) is authorised to carry out a coercive investigation that is similar to the criminal investigation process. The NTA will report tax evasion that it discovers from such an investigation to the public prosecutors for criminal prosecution. A person who is prosecuted and convicted for tax evasion is punishable by imprisonment, a fine or both. The length of imprisonment and amount of fine depends on the type of tax and conduct, but imprisonment is no longer than 10 years and the fine is not more than the amount of tax evasion.

The above does not vary depending on the type of taxpayer.

Enforcement record

What is the recent enforcement record of the authorities?

The NTA announced that, in operation year 2018, the number of field examinations that it conducted at the sites of individual and corporate taxpayers are, respectively, approximately 73,579 (while 22.22 million individual tax returns were filed) and 99,000 (while 2.92 million corporate tax returns were filed). These field examinations revealed unreported income of ¥602. 4 billion in individual income tax and ¥1,381.3 billion in corporation tax. These figures do not include examinations that involved simply contacting and giving instructions to taxpayers. In addition, the tax authorities conduct examinations of other taxes, such as consumption tax, inheritance tax, gift tax and withholding income tax.

Law stated date

Correct on

Give the date on which the information above is accurate.

8 July 2020