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EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s church tax and how do I avoid paying it?

Members of the Protestant or Catholic churches need to pay a contribution in Austria, known as "church tax".

vienna skyline st stephan's cathedral rathaus
Vienna's St. Stephen's cathedral against the city's skyline. (Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash)

The church in Austria is allowed by law to require a financial contribution from its members, the Kirchenbeitrag, popularly known as church tax – though it is not technically a tax.

According to the Catholic Church in Austria, more than 75 per cent of its income in the country comes from this contribution, which is used to cover church material and personnel requirements. The institution says that the contribution will also provide services in pastoral care, social affairs, and monument preservation.

Last year, the Catholic Church in Austria reported a decline in membership, according to data published in January. The church said the number of registered Catholics in Austria fell by 1.6 percent in 2021, with more than 72,000 people formally leaving the institution in the year.

However, financial figures from the year before show a slight increase in income from Church contribution, which totalled € 484 million in 2020, compared to € 481 million in 2019.

Who needs to pay the church tax?

All adult Catholics who reside in Austria are subject to contributions, and similar rules also apply to Protestant churches.

READ ALSO: How to celebrate Easter like an Austrian

A Christian person is someone who has received one of the basic sacraments, so any baptised person would need to pay the church tax. That includes foreigners baptised abroad, even if they have not taken other sacraments, practised the religion, or were baptised in infancy.

The religious data is given to churches by the municipalities based on registration information.

Usually, the church will collect information when someone declares their religion on their Meldezettel (the residence registration form). However, the contribution offices may also use available public information, such as data from the parishes about baptisms, wedding ceremonies, or newspaper reports.

There are a few exceptions to the payment obligation, including for students, who need to inform the church contribution office yearly about their income situation. Other exceptions are people receiving social payments (childcare allowance or unemployment benefit, for example) or on civil or basic military service.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s mandatory military service work?

The situation can get tricky in the case of married couples when only one of them has an income, or only one of them is a Catholic.

How much does it cost?

According to the Catholic Church, “being a Christian is not a private matter” and “requires solidarity with the Church” to cover the basic costs of pastoral care.

The institution says that no one would be asked for “anything unreasonable”.

The usual fee is less than 1.1% of the annual taxable income, considering each person’s income and financial burdens. The payments can be claimed for up to € 400 per person for tax purposes.

The contribution is usually due at the end of each quarter but can be paid monthly, semi-annually, or yearly. People subject to the grant will get a mailed letter with payment information, and there are discounts for early payments.

In some cases, they might be deducted directly from pay.

READ ALSO: Explained: How to understand your payslip in Austria

Since churches don’t have access to tax information, they will estimate contributions based on available data, including profession and marital status, unless you provide them with information about income and expenses.

In certain situations (single-parent households or families with children), it is possible to request discounts.

What is the legal basis for the church contribution?

The church mentions several regulations that allow it to ask its members for contributions, including centuries-old canons.

In Austria, the primary legal basis is in a 1939 law, the Church Contribution Act, amended in 1945 and incorporated into the country’s legal system, allowing for contributions.

The 1939 law removed a state subsidy to the church and instead created a church tax system with private payments to the religious institutions. According to the Vienna Archdiocese, the law was created by the Nazi regime to “make a devastating blow to the church in Austria” by removing its main source of funding, the state payments.

After the war, the old subsidies could not be reintroduced, mainly for budgetary issues, so the “church tax” was incorporated into the Austrian legal system in 1945.

What happens if I don’t pay the contribution?

People who don’t pay the contributions are also not allowed to use the services of the churches, including sacraments like baptism, wedding, first communion, and confirmation.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What can I deduct from my tax bill in Austria?

The church can also claim amounts due, and the sums can accumulate. The institution will sue for the charges, so ignoring the payment slips is not advisable.

You can avoid payment if you fall into the exceptions, including being a student. But other than that, the only way to stop paying the mandatory contribution is by leaving the church.

Generally, you need to send a form (available with the institution) requesting to leave the church. However, the documents and processes can be slightly different depending on the situation, so it’s worth checking the website or calling the authorities currently billing you.

By leaving the church or deregistering with the church, you also are giving up the right to participate in sacraments. So you wouldn’t be allowed to be godparent in baptism, for example.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about paying tax in Austria

Useful vocabulary
Kirchenbeitrag – church contribution
Volljährig – of age
Wohnsitz – place of residence
Einkünfte – income

And the seven sacraments:
Taufe – baptism
Eucharistie – eucharist
Firmung – confirmation
Ehe – marriage
Buße – reconciliation
Weihe – holy orders
Krankensalbung – anointing of the sick

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MONEY

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Austria’s climate bonus payment

Residents in Austria will receive up to €200 to compensate for the increase in energy and fuel prices created by the eco-social tax reform. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Austria's climate bonus payment

The climate bonus, or Klimabonus in German, is an essential part of Austria’s eco-tax reform, a larger project with several measures to incentivise environmental choices such as riding the public transport.

The bonus would offset some of the costs brought by a new CO2 tax in Austria.

READ ALSO: Austrian government unveils ‘eco’ tax reform

“With the Klimabonus, we ensure that climate-friendly behaviour is rewarded and the people in our country are relieved. If you take good care of the climate, you pay less CO2 tax and end up having more of this money left”, Climate Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) said on Twitter.

The Austrian government plans to set up a web site with more information on the bonus in June. Until then, here is what you need to know about the new compensation and how to get it.

Who is entitled to the payment?

Anyone who has had their primary residence in Austria for at least 183 days will be entitled to the bonus. Children are also entitled, but if they are younger than 18 years old, they will receive 50 per cent of the respective amount of the climate bonus.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get your €500 Kurzarbeit bonus in Austria

“This is the first time that all people, regardless of age, place of residence, regardless of employment or pension or training status, have received a federal payment,” said Gewessler on Friday in the Ö1 broadcast.

What is this ‘respective amount’?

Not everyone will receive the same amount of money. The value changes depending on where the recipient lives and what is the offer of public transport there. Viennese, then, will receive the lowest amount of money: a one-off € 100 payment.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to claim your €200 voucher for electronics repair in Austria

There are four levels of payment depending on the municipality: €100 for urban centres with the highest-ranking development (which is only Vienna), €233 for urban centres with good development of public transport, €167 in centres and surrounding areas with good basic development of the public system, and € 200 for rural municipalities.

If you live in Austria’s second-largest city, Graz, you fall into the second category and should expect a €133 bonus.

Some exceptions to the geographical rule apply, so people with disabilities who cannot use public transport will receive the total climate bonus (€200) regardless of where they live.

The Federal Government had already stated it estimated that a third of Austria’s population would receive the highest bonus.

How to get the bonus?

The payment is pretty straightforward; there is no need to apply for it, and it will be done directly into your bank account, just make sure that you have it up to date on the FinanzOnline website – the final date to do so is June 30th.

Those who receive a pension and other benefits will receive the bonus in that same bank account.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How freelancers in Austria can pay four times less in social insurance

It is worth mentioning that the bank account doesn’t necessarily need to be from an Austrian bank.

People who don’t have a registered bank account will receive a letter with a voucher that can be redeemed in shops or exchanged for cash at a bank, Gewessler said.

According to the Ministry, payments should start at the beginning of October, and those receiving a transfer will not have to wait for long to see the money in their bank accounts. However, people receiving letters with the vouchers could have to wait a few weeks.

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