In your police registration (MeldebestätigungMeldezettel Austria requires everyone living in Austria (both Austrians and foreigners) to register their place(s) of residence with the local authorities. The confirmation of this registration is called a Meldebestätigung (EN: confirmation of registration), although it is still affectionately known to many by its former name (the Meldezettel). This is done at your Meldeamt in the Gemeinde or Bezirk you live in. You are required to do your registration within three days of arrival. It is important to do this also because your qualification for permanent residence starts to run from the point of your registration., although frequently called the MeldezettelMeldezettel Austria requires everyone living in Austria (both Austrians and foreigners) to register their place(s) of residence with the local authorities. The confirmation of this registration is called a Meldebestätigung (EN: confirmation of registration), although it is still affectionately known to many by its former name (the Meldezettel). This is done at your Meldeamt in the Gemeinde or Bezirk you live in. You are required to do your registration within three days of arrival. It is important to do this also because your qualification for permanent residence starts to run from the point of your registration.) you declare your religious confession. Many people declare themselves as Catholic (katholisch) or Protestant (evangelisch) and become liable to pay Church Tax (KirchenbeitragKirchenbeitrag Kirchenbeitrag is a form of tax, set as 1.1% of income, and is used by the church to subsidise its activities (e.g. pastoral care, charity and culture). – sometimes also called “KirchensteuerKirchenbeitrag Kirchenbeitrag is a form of tax, set as 1.1% of income, and is used by the church to subsidise its activities (e.g. pastoral care, charity and culture).“) as a result, irrespective of whether they actually regularly attend services, or actively participate in church activities. Note: providing this information is voluntary, despite what some officials might say.
What is Kirchenbeitrag / Kirchensteuer?
Kirchenbeitrag is a form of tax, of 1.1% of income (Catholic) or 1.5% (Protestant), that the church uses to subsidise its activities (e.g. pastoral care, charity and culture). As such it is a case of opt-out rather than opt-in, so by default you pay an annual amount. This amount is based on your earnings. You have to actively leave the church (KirchenaustrittKirchenaustritt Kirchenaustritt is the act of physically leaving the church. A frequent reason for leaving the church is due to reluctance to pay a Kirchenbeitrag. It is not without consequence, as you are for example unable to take sacrament, become a godparent, marry in a church. Should you reconsider and wish to rejoin the church, you will be charged Kirchenbeiträge for the time you had left the church for.) to stop paying this amount. Some concessions for financial hardship, in which case you should contact the Kirchenbeitragsstelle, which is located in every (arch)diocese. You should also contact them to correct their estimated contributions, which may not necessarily increase in line with inflation. This is particularly valid for the self-employed.
How does the Kirchenbeitragsstelle get my details?
The name, date of birth and address of anyone registered as certain confessions under the Meldegesetz are passed on to the Kirchbeitragsstelle. (Source: kirchenbeitrag.at)
I am being overcharged. What should I do?
The annual letter from the Kirchenbeitragsstelle uses an “estimated income” to assess the amount of your contribution. If you are self-employed, and have fluctuating levels of income, or your income was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, you can contest their calculated amount. The onus remains on you to contact them. Don’t just check for the current year, but also check for previous years that you didn’t overpay. The key document to support your claim is your Einkommenssteuerbescheid.
Top tip: While direct debit might be convenient, it might mean that more money is deducted from your bank account than you you expect. Refunds are made for overpayment, but involve legwork with the Kirchenbeitragsstelle. Consider carefully before setting up a direct debit.
Are there any reduced rates or exemptions?
Contributions are waived for schoolchildren and students without an income, apprentices, those in military and alternative civilian service. There are exemptions or reductions for those on family benefits, unemployment benefits and other support in disadvantaged areas. There are also reductions for single parents and families on a single income.
Top tip: Actively contact the Kirchenbeitragsstelle about changes in employment status, if you become a student etc.
Can you offset your Kirchenbeitrag against other taxes as some kind of a donation?
There is the possibility under the Income Tax Act to offset mandatory contributions to churches and religious organisations that are legally recognised in Austria up to an amount of EUR 400. (§ 18 Abs. 1 Z 5 EStG). This also applies to such contributions to comparable entities in the EU or EEAEEA The European Economic Area (EEA) consists of the 27 EU Member States as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The United Kingdom is not part of the EEA..
And what happens if I don’t pay?
In the case of a high levels of arrears being outstanding the Kirchenbeitragsstelle may try to collect them. We are aware of employers having been contacted as part of the collection process, with on some occasions the amount including periods of absence from Austria where the person did not formally do their de-registration (Abmeldung) and subsequently returned to Austria.
Top tip: if you are leaving Austria, remember to do your Abmeldung (de-registration) to ensure that you are not charged Kirchenbeitrag if you choose to return at a later date.
What are the consequences of leaving the church?
While you remain a baptised Christian even when you formally leave the church, you are not considered to formally be a member of a specific confession. If you were christened in Austria (getauft) but leave the church, you can no longer receive communion, and can’t become a Godparent (Taufpate) or witness (Taufzeuge), with the logic being that you are not able to satisfy that church that you are model of faith (Glaubensvorbild). In order to be married in a church or buried in a church graveyard, you also need to be a paid-up Christian.
We have also heard of instances of refusal of granting of places in sheltered living facilities (betreutes Wohnen) where the facilities are operated by a religious order.
What documents do I need to submit an application to leave the church?
You may only need to submit a copy of your photo ID, and your Taufschein (christening certificate). However, if you are married you might also be required to submit your marriage certificate (Trauschein), in particular if you have changed your name. You may also need to submit the most recent letter from the Kirchenbeitragsstelle as well as the number of your Kirchenbeitragskonto, to check that you are not in arrears with your contributions.
If I leave the church, until when do I continue to pay Kirchenbeitrag?
You continue to pay Kirchenbeitrag until the end of the month when the authorities receive your request to leave the church.
What is the historical background about Kirchenbeitrag?
Church Tax dates back to 1939, after the annexation of Austria. Church tax was retained after World War II under the premise of ensuring the independence of the Church from political powers.
Do similar taxes exist for other faiths?
In other faiths, you may have to pay a “Kultusbeitrag” – a membership contribution. The Österreichische Buddhistische Religionsgesellschaft (ÖBR) does not collect such a contribution, while the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (IKG) has a flat fee that is not means-tested. The Islamische Glaubensgemeinschaft (IGGÖ) also uses a donation-based funding model, primarily from Friday prayers.
How are British denominations handled?
Some denominations fall under Freikirchen (“free churches”) like Methodists and Congregationalists, and do not charge a Kirchenbeitrag.
Thanks to: Emily Middleton