New VAT forms that companies submit to the tax office and an updated list of products and services with a lower VAT rate are only a few of the procedures that have resulted from the Ministry of Finance’s five recent decrees. In July 2016, the Parliament approved new amendments to the VAT law in order to reduce informal economy. The Ministry of Justice plans on fighting the informal sector even further with terms of imprisonment for up to 25 years for tax fraud. Provisions against tax evasion have recently been introduced.
Krzysztof Wiśniewski, a tax advisor and a lawyer at Łodź-based Business Support Solution (BSS), says the provision is a tool that has been used across Europe and also in Poland before, so it should not be regarded as a new solution.
“However, the new regulations include a number of unclear expressions in their definitions of the circumstances where certain forbidden activities could be carried out. This may lead to different interpretations of the law, in its every day implementation. Bearing in mind that taxpayers often complain about the tax office’s interpretation of the law, it is quite likely that the regulations will be misused, at least in the initial stages,” adds BSS’s Mr Wiśniewski.
It is these multiple interpretations of the same law and the frequency with which it is amended that is a challenge for small and medium sized companies, both domestic and foreign, that operate in Poland.
“Since 2008, there have been more than three amendments to the Polish law on personal income tax; more than two amendments to corporate income tax and on average another two amendments to VAT each year. In addition to this, new taxes, specifically: a tax on the mining sector, a retail tax and a financial sector levy have been introduced or will be implemented soon,” wrote Grzegorz Poniatowski, Director of Fiscal Policy Studies at the Centre for Social and Economic Research (CASE) in a recent editorial for Emerging Europe.
In Pwc’s Paying Taxes 2016, with the total tax rate of 40.3 per cent, Poland ranked 58th, lower than Romania but higher than the Czech Republic and Hungary.
“Whilst in general the taxation rules in Poland are broadly similar to the UK, there are some major differences in the procedures and processes for both VAT and corporation tax in particular. The processes around VAT seem to be a bit more complicated than within the UK and particularly with respect to VAT refunds and VAT inspections. The processes around corporation tax and payments on a monthly basis are very different to the UK and they need to be understood before setting up a business,” says Brian Deehan, Finance Director at Baltex (W. Ball & Son Ltd), a leader in the British technical textiles sector and the UK’s leading producer of weft and warp knitted fabrics, which has been operating in Poland for over five years.
Michael Dembinski, Chief Adviser at the British-Polish Chamber of Commerce (BPCC), said in an interview with Emerging Europe, that British SMEs can find starting a business in Poland more complicated than in the UK. “I have heard from many British entrepreneurs that it was not a question of their money; it was a question of their time. They’d done the business plan and it looked great on Excel but when they confronted the reality of meeting the mayor, or the surveyor, or some other functionary, they decided they could set up three businesses in Ireland or Singapore in the same time it took to set one up in Poland. It is much easier to do business in the UK and water will always flow downhill,” he says.
A seal of approval
Baltex’s Mr Deehan says his company has had a very positive experience of doing business in Poland, in general.
“Our Polish operation is an integral part of our business and with the outcome of the recent UK EU Referendum, our footprint in Poland will play an even more important role for our company in the years to come. However, it is fair to say that we have faced some challenges and difficulties across a number of specific areas which new companies, wishing to do business within Poland, should take into account and plan for,” he told Emerging Europe.
Stella Donoghue, Managing Director of Phlexglobal Ltd, says that some of the challenges to businesses are tax and accounting requirements as well as the need to have accounts in Polish currency. “I would also add to that the procedures for setting up a company, including having a notary sign all documents,” Ms Donoghue says. Her company is a specialist provider of technology-enabled Trial Master File (TMF & eTMF) document management solutions and other support services to the global clinical research market, also operating in Lublin.
“We have had to provide many letters of authorisation, stamped with the company seal and signed by directors in order for some our Polish employees to undertake basic transaction and contracts, for example things such as contracts with freight companies, internet providers, mobile phone providers, IT support contracts, car hire and car registration etc. This is very time consuming and requires the original documents to be couriered each time. Maybe an extension of the powers of attorney authorisation might be something we could look at in future, to make this more efficient,” says Mr Deehan.
The company registration process is being improved and shortened. According to the District Court in Gdańsk, the average time needed to register a limited company in the Tricity is between three to seven working days. “That period can even be shortened to one day if entrepreneurs use the form available on the court’s website when making an agreement between the shareholders or composing a memorandum of incorporation,” says Justice Rafał Terlecki, Deputy President of the District Court in Gdańsk.
Make your own blueprint
Wiktor Doktór, CEO of Pro Progressio, an organisation that supports the growth of entrepreneurship in Poland with a special focus on the modern business services’ sector, says it is very important, especially for a foreign company, to define what kind of activities they want to undertake, at the very beginning, as some of them require different laws and operational regulations for example in the insurance, banking, food or medical sectors.
“If you are a producer of certain goods or a supplier of services; here comes the other question: do you want to open a new company in Poland or a branch of international business. The answer to this question is important as different financial regulations apply,” Mr Doktór adds.
For representatives of foreign companies operating in Poland, finding employees can be challenging.
“Dealing with HR and employment regulations is time-consuming, particularly the requirement for employees to have a medical before they start work,” says Ms Donoghue.
For Mr Deehan, one particular difference between the UK and Poland when it comes to wages and salary relates to the negotiation of rates.
“We understand there is a significant difference in tax rates and social security rates in Poland as averse to the UK, but we found it challenging in so far as when we discussed rates with new employees or existing employees the focus was always on ‘net wages/salaries’. This means employers need to understand the taxation rates better than they would in the UK. Another aspect that is different relates to changing job roles and wage rates. In the UK companies can amend these areas relatively easily together with their employees by means of an internal letter, signed by both parties. I understand that under Polish Labour Laws there are some further requirements if one wants to do this in Poland,” Baltex’s Mr Deehan tells Emerging Europe.
Banking on financials
BPCC’s Mr Dembinski says Polish companies entering the UK market emphasise that it is laughably easy to set up a business, to employ people, to pay taxes and to get business premises. “The one difficulty they complain about is opening a bank account,” he adds.
Opening an account in a Polish bank might not be a difficult task for domestic entrepreneurs but it is not the same story for foreigners. For example, Mr Deehan has had mixed experiences in respect of banking services for their Polish operation.
“At the outset it took several months to get a Polish złoty bank account opened; that was a much longer period of time than we had anticipated. Furthermore, the first bank we used to open an account could only provide internet banking facilities in Polish and not in English, which was challenging. We also found the process of setting up basic banking facilities such as debit and credit cards very time consuming and it required several visits and lots of form filling. When making payments to suppliers in Poland, from the UK, we often had difficulties with bank charges for the beneficiary. When we make payments to suppliers from UK to other parts of Europe we pay the ‘senders’ bank charges’ and have also ability to pay ‘beneficiary charges’ if required. This option does not seem to be open to us when we pay Polish suppliers, from the UK, and has caused us some problems,” Mr Deehan explains.
The situation is improving and increasingly more banks, such as ING Bank Śląski, Bank Zachodni WBK, and PKO BP, offer their services for non-residents also, or companies with no office in Poland.
Dariusz Dzwonnik, Director at the Office of Deposit and Transaction Products for SMEs at PKO BP, confirms that non-residents can open two types of business accounts, depending on their size. “Foreign entrepreneurs can set up a business account through a consulate or through an agent based in Poland,” he adds.
A free bit of advice
Pro Progressio’s Mr Doktór says it is crucial to conduct a thorough market research regarding prospective locations for the business before entering the Polish market and this includes available grants and public aid, especially in special economic zones (SEZs).
“Foreign companies usually know only a few Polish cities, and the truth is that there is business potential also available in other locations, which makes the list of good locations much larger. Other actions which are important for a business are: learning about the cost of running a business, recruitment, understanding the differences between gross and net salaries, becoming familiar with transfer pricing regulations, understanding the security of personal data regulations and selecting providers who will be helpful, not only at the beginning of starting a business but also during the regular operations phase,” he adds.
Tomas Maciejak, CEO at Business Support Solutions, agrees with Mr Doktór that the key challenge seems to be the right analysis and preparation before making any step to set up your business in Poland. “The country is part of the EU and as such gives a lot of opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs. On the one hand, Poland has to be perceived by natural barriers like legal corporate bureaucracy, complicated and complex tax system based on exceptions and interpretations, restrictive migration policy but in exchange offers 38 million consumers market, dynamically growing economy, attractive labour cost, educated talent pool, several decent location to invest money, support from EU and local founds,” he adds.
Kerry Hallard, CEO of the National Outsourcing Association (NOA) in the UK and director of the European Outsourcing Association (EOA), says that outsourcing can be a viable solution for such businesses as it can provide a more cost-effective and accessible route to the market in the short to medium term.
“We sought advice from a large accountancy firm in the UK before starting out on our Polish project and we found the level of advice was not sufficient,” says Mr Deehan.
“Make good use of established service providers in Poland. Do not try to do it all yourself. Choose your location and then spend time developing your network within that city,” Ms Donoghue advices.
Test and learn
“Partnering with sourcing suppliers in countries such as Poland means you will have immediate access to the required skills; be it languages, IT, administration services or management; all of whom are increasingly well-educated. Additionally, the resource pool is typically scalable, allowing buyers to ‘test and learn’ without being locked into long-term commitments and heavy financial investments,” Ms Hallard says.
She adds that established local providers also have an inherent understanding of legal and/or regulatory considerations about everything from employment law to procurement practices, plus knowledge of any cultural nuances that might not have been picked up by the large corporate consultancies.
“In addition, nowadays, sourcing providers are more likely to share the risk with their buyers; with outcome based contracts being negotiated as opposed to full-time equivalent (FTE) models — so, if you are partnering with an established provider that is also vested in your ongoing success, the route to market should be easier to navigate,” says Ms Hallard.