Information on BDÜ website

Following discussions in mailing lists and elsewhere, I see the BDÜ, the German Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer, has some useful information on its website – in German, and for those in Germany.
At click on Aktuelles, or try this link.

The materials include a file on the changes that need to be made to translators’ invoices this year in Germany. For example, I can’t send an invoice as a PDF file because it hasn’t got the legally required electronic signature, for which apparently you need special hardware. Similarly, I shouldn’t receive such invoices (does that just affect set-off against VAT, or set-off against income tax too? Because I have some U.S. and Scandinavian software, especially for the Internet, where I have only the printout of an email and my credit card statement as evidence of purchase).

There’s also a copy of a short article Corinna Schlüter-Ellner wrote for the Neue Juristische Wochenschrift, 15 December 2003 edition. On that occasion, there was a special advertising section for translators. They even contacted me and also phoned me up and asked me if I wanted to put an ad in. I didn’t want to, because I had so much work at the time that if a new client had phoned up, I’d have had to turn them down. That is negative advertising in my view. The person on the phone told me I could farm work out, i.e. he suggested I should change the nature of my business, but I couldn’t quite see the sense of that, except for him. Corinna’s article stresses the need for a legal translator to have a training in law as well as language (many of the ads that appeared do not show evidence of this!)

The BDÜ office must be busy, because since I looked at the site this morning, files have been added on ISO 639 language codes (en, de and so on) and there is also the association’s reaction to the draft JVEG (see my earlier entry).

LATER NOTE: In the comments, Paul Thomas points out that Adobe Acrobat 6.0 does ‘sign’ documents. I am still not sure what the German tax offices will accept. A Google search indicates people offering for sale plug-ins for Acrobat that can be used together with a card and card reader to create a ‘qualifizierte elektronische Signatur’, but then again, the statute says proved ‘for example’ by this kind of signature. I will report in a new entry when I get a clearer idea.

9 thoughts on “Information on BDÜ website

  1. Hi Margaret

    But you can attach an electronic signature to a PDF, I’ve just done it for one of my own bills. I was thinking of converting to PDF billing at the end of this month anyway as most of my customers want bills this way. Or have I got something wrong here?


  2. Paul, I believe this ‘qualifizierte elektronische Unterschrift’ is more than just your scanned signature. Here’s something:
    The only escape is if your client prints out your PDF and the tax auditor does not know it wasn’t sent on paper. I imagine that the scanned signature (which I assume you’re referring to?) would have a negative effect here.

  3. Hi Margaret

    No…that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m referring to the “Save document as certified document” option in the File menu of Acrobat 6. It allows you to attach a fully fledged electronic “signature” stating that the contents are correct. A corresponding prompt is display when someone opens the file and Acrobat points out if the file has been changed since the signature was attached.
    I’ll send you an example if you wish. That is the kind of electronic “signature” the Finanzamt means. The BDÜ website has made many people panic unnecessarily -PDF bills with electronic signature are accepatable – this type of signature has nothing to do with a scanned handwritten signature which is, of course, forgable


  4. Well, that would be excellent – I’d have to get the real Acrobat though, wouldn’t I? Is this definitely designed to meet EU requirements, rather than American? It would print out with the file and therefore be seen by the Finanzamt. I had read that you need a number issued, a card, and a card reader to sign (although the Act says ‘e.g. an electronic signature’, not ‘only an electronic signature’ for electronic invoices).

    The BDÜ website says >>In § 14 Abs. 3 UStG ist nun klargestellt, dass eine elektronische Rechnung anerkannt wird, wenn Echtheit der Herkunft und Unversehrtheit des Inhalts nachgewiesen sind, z.B. mit qualifizierter elektronischer Signatur. Ansonsten kann aufgrund elektronischer Rechnungen kein Vorsteuerabzug vorgenommen werden.

  5. Well Margaret

    Most of my customers are now almost insisting that I send them an electronic invoice as a PDF with certification. Colleagues I know have been sending Word file invoices together with jobs by e-mail for years now. How does the Finanazamt know whether these Word invoices are printed by the customer or printed and sent by snail mail to the customer anyway? They don’t. And there is no way to prove it.I think the only way to comply with the rather lax wording of the statute is to either carry on filling the coffers of Deutsche Bundespost by sending hardcopy bills or to send them as a certified, signed PDF. Maybe other colleagues have a view on this.


  6. The BDÜ stuff is by Corinna Schlüter-Ellner, who is a lawyer and has gone into it. However, she isn’t using such a signature herself.
    I take your point that no-one may find out if the invoice was sent by email or not, but there’s a slight risk it might come to light. (Did you know that if we do electronic bookkeeping, even just to assist an accountant, we are supposed to keep the program running for ten years in case there is an audit? Ridiculous!)
    However, I read that Acrobat has had a signature function since version 4.0 and this has nothing to do with the qualif. elektr. Sig. (Might it nevertheless be acceptable to the FA?) I also read about a firm that sells a plug-in for Acrobat and clearly distinguishes this from the signature you refer to, which it calls Adobe’s internal signature. For the QAS, to coin an abbreviation, you need a number and card reader.

  7. Maybe someone should clarifiy this whole affair Margaret. It reminds me of the infamous “(schein-)selbständig or not” fiasco where the Finanzamt just caused utter chaos with mails flying to and fro between customer and translator trying to find out if they worked for anyone else, attempts to get certificates from the Finanzamt certifying translators as “selbstsändig” and then the whole thing being dropped. The crucial point of the legislation is that it be proven that the invoice has not been tampered with. I can see them objecting to a Word file but not to a PDF.
    I’d be pleased to hear any other feedback you get on this Margaret.


  8. I see there’s a long article on PDF signatures in c’t 1, 2004. As far as I understand it, you still need the official certification.

  9. The reason they might object to a PDF, if they knew it was one, is the fact that they can’t tell from the printout that it is a PDF, but as I say, I have no idea either. I might make a new entry to attract other replies, but my inclination is to send all my invoices by post and wait for one of the several German translators’ associations to do the work! The Finanzamt may not know itself what it wants.

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