“The commuter allowance is already an environmentally harmful subsidy,” Sven-Christian Kindler, the budgetary spokesman for the Greens parliamentary group, told the Augsburger Allgemeine on Tuesday. “An increase in the commuter allowance would be socially unjust and economically and ecologically counterproductive.”
The SPD, Greens and FDP are meeting on Wednesday to thrash out a set of measures to relieve households who are struggling with high energy costs, with the option of a higher commuter allowance likely to be on the table.
But Kindler said the commuter allowance would mainly benefit people with higher incomes, and the financial gains wouldn’t be felt until next year’s tax return was submitted.
“We have to help people with low incomes instead of handing out expensive tax gifts,” he explained.
A viable package would include the immediate supplement for children from poor families, a fair distribution of the CO2 price between landlords and tenants for heating costs and a one-off payment for people on benefits, the Green politician said.
In an interview with ZDF on Monday, SPD deputy leader and Saarland Economics Minister Anke Rehlinger had spoken out in favour of raising the commuter allowance, which offers tax relief for people who travel long distances to work.
Upping the allowance would be a “quick and effective instrument” to use in the current energy crisis, she said.
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The idea is also supported by high-profile figures in the pro-business FDP, including Finance Minister Christian Lindner, and by the CDU/CSU-led federal states, who argue that it would ease the burden of fuel costs on rural communities.
According to the Augsburger Allgemeine, SPD financial policy spokesman Michael Schrodi has also expressed scepticism about an increase in the commuter alllowance.
“There are other options on the table,” he said, adding that he preferred direct payments as a means of supporting struggling households.
What is the commuter allowance?
For journeys to work, the tax office currently allows employees to write off 30 cents per kilometre of one-way travel as a deductible expense known as the ‘commuter allowance’.
From the 21st kilometre of commute onwards, 35 cents per kilometre can be deducted – though this is set to go up to 38 cents in 2024.
The commuter allowance can be used regardless of which method of transport people use to get to work, so drivers, public transport users and cyclists can all take advantage of it.
The tax office allows employees to write off €1,000 in annual work-related expenses without any evidence of their actual costs.
If the expenses go above this level, every additional euro can lower that employee’s tax burden further.
This means that the majority of people only tend to start to benefit from the tax deductions if they travel more than 10km to work each day and therefore exceed the €1,000 threshold as a result of their commute.
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For 2017, according to earlier data from the Federal Statistical Office, around 18.4 million commuters stated that they drove at least part of the distance to work by car and 7.5 million commuters had a commute of more than 20 kilometres.
A higher commuter allowance is controversial, especially among the Greens, as they say that it offers a tax incentive for long car journeys and benefits just a small number of higher earners.
The CDU/CSU want the flat rate to be upped to 38 cents per kilometre and adjusted to match developments in the CO2 tax.
The IG BCE trade union, which advocates for workers in the mining, ceramics and energy sectors, wants the commuter allowance to go up to 40 cents per kilometre for the current tax year.
commuter allowance – (die) Pendlerpauschale
to dispense / hand out – verteilen
harmful to the environment – umweltschädlich
effective – wirksam