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TAXES

What is Norway’s ‘tax list’ and what does it tell us?

It's tax list day in Norway , the day when everyone's tax returns become open for everyone else to see, whether they're a billionaire, a celebrity, or even the prime minister.

Pictured are 50 and 500 kroner notes.
The tax list is released annually and includes all tax payers. Pictured are 500 and 50 kroner notes. Photo by Nils S. Aasheim/Norges Bank

In a custom that might seem outlandish in other countries, Norway publishes the tax records of every individual in the country once annually.

The country has long published tax returns, and since 2001 the information has been available as an online database on the website of the Norwegian Tax Administration. The lists for 2020 are the first in which the effects of the pandemic are visible on peoples incomes and wealth.

In 2020, 4.9 people in Norway paid a combined total of 621 billion taxes. This is a slight decrease on the 637 billion kroner that residents paid in tax in 2019.

As well as fortunes and taxes paid over the last year, the published tax information can also be searched to see how much Norwegian taxpayers earned in the previous year.

Investor and businessman Kjell Inge Røkke has reclaimed the top spot as Norway’s wealthiest resident with an estimated wealth of 19 billion kroner. Last year’s wealthiest individual, 28-year-old Gustav Magnar Witzøe, has moved down to the second richest individual. Witzøe’s net wealth trailed Røkke’s by over 10 million kroner. Sister’s Alexandra and Katharina Andresen were the wealthiest women in 2020. Both were listed with a fortune of around 5.6 billion kroner.

Businessman and philanthropist Trond Mohn was Norway’s highest earner last year, with an income of 303 million kroner. The second-highest earner was former rally driver and real estate investor Ivar Tollefsen. Tollefsen took home 289 million kroner last year in income. Finally, financier Øystein Stray Spetalen had the country’s third-highest pay packet with an income of around 259 million kroner.

What information is included on the list?

Information including name, year of birth and tax municipality can be seen on the open tax list, along with the net income, net fortune and the amount of tax paid.

It is not possible to hide one’s information from the tax list as published by the Norwegian Tax Administration, or the summary sent to the media.

What doesn’t the list tell us?

Some factors can result in information being withheld from the list. These include if the information can reveal a confidential client relationship; and people whose addresses are legally unlisted on the public register (folkeregister).

Information on people with no fixed address; people under the age of 17 and deceased persons is also not included.

Meanwhile, the tax information included on the list can be attached to some caveats, as NRK points out.

The tax list shows net incomes with all tax deductions taken into account. People who have large outstanding loans can appear to have a lower income on the tax list than their actual gross income would predict, if this was visible.

Other deductions which are applied to the income information are the minimum deduction (minstefradrag), which is designed to cover standard expenses connected to employment; deductions for families; and deductions for losses made from sales of property or shares.

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As such, it is possible to have a high actual income, but for the tax list to show a lower income.

Similarly, the figures given for personal fortunes may not be completely accurate, because a home, for example, may be given a lower value for tax purposes than its real value. As such, someone who owns an expensive home may be worth more than their ‘personal fortune’ on the tax list.

The numbers are based on preliminary tax figures from the Norwegian Tax Administration.If someone has a large debt, this will be deducted from their net fortune.

How can you search for people’s incomes in Norway? 

If you are a Norwegian resident, you can search the tax lists here, simply by logging on with your national MinID or BankID code. 

According to the tax agency, there were 1.6 million searches on its database in 2018, showing that Norwegians continue to be curious about what other people earn. 

This is, however, only about a tenth of the number of searches there used to be before 2014, when the tax authority started to allow people to find out who had been searching for their tax information, something generally credited to a reluctance among Norwegians to appear nosy. 

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HEALTH

Could Norway reintroduce tax on sugar-based products?

Health organisations in Norway have called for the government to propose the return of the country’s sugar tax when it makes an upcoming statement on public health.

Could Norway reintroduce tax on sugar-based products?

The National Society of Public Health (Nasjonalforeningen for folkehelsen) said it wants sugar to be taxed in Norway in a response provided during the hearing round of the government’s work on a new public health statement, newspaper Aftenposten reports.

The public health society is one of several societies and other health organisations in Norway who want the return of the sugar tax, the newspaper writes.

The Ministry of Health and Care Services (Helse- og omsorgsdepartementet) is working on a statement on public health to be released next spring and has therefore asked for organisations and agencies to submit inputs over the issue.

The hearing stage of the process showed that several of organisations support the use of taxes to influence the consumer prices of healthy and unhealthy food, Aftenposten writes.

In the past, Norway has taxed sugar more heavily than it does today. But the previous government scrapped taxes on alcohol-free soft drinks and products that use sugar as raw ingredients, such as chocolate or cakes.

Tax is still applied to purchases of raw sugars including sugar cubes, caster sugar and similar products, with consumers paying the sugar tax at the point of purchase.

Because all of the sugar taxes were implemented as a way for the state to raise funds, rather than for health reasons, they did not necessarily impact similar foods in the same way and were therefore criticised as being ineffective from a health perspective, according to Aftenposten.

Two of the three taxes were for this reason eventually lifted following parliamentary discussions, but were never replaced.

“The removal of the sugar tax has taken away one of the most important levers we had to be able to affect consumer choice. Over 100 sector experts and organisations were behind the opposition to (former prime minister Erna) Solberg’s removal of the tax. It should be reimplemented but should have a clearer health objective,” the National Society of Public Health said in its hearing response.

A string of health organisations, including the National Society of Heart and Lung Disease (Landsforeningen for hjerte- og lungesyke), and cancer and diabetes charities along with dentists and doctors’ professional organisations are all also reported by Aftensposten to support the return of the tax.

The Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise’s (NHO) food and drink section, NHO Mat og drikke, and breweries interest organisation Bryggeri og drikkevareforeningen said they opposed it.

“The (sugar) tax policy must be transparent and cannot be looked at without also considering border shopping [crossing the border to Sweden to purchase products without the tax, ed.],” the brewery organisation said.

READ ALSO: ‘Harryhandel’: Is the return of cross-border shopping in Norway really a good thing?

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