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High earners may no longer keep tax info from media

The Finnish Tax Administration will return to the practice of providing the media with a list of the highest-income Finns' tax data.

Tax officials must release the names of those removed from lists in previous years. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Finland's Tax Administration said on Wednesday that it will not appeal a court ruling that forbade it from allowing individuals to keep their tax data off a public list.

Individuals can still ask to have their names removed from the list of high-income earners, but the list of those who apply to do so will be made public – and the tax office must reveal any individual's taxable income if requested by name. In practice, this means that the public release of information will revert to the traditional model after two exceptional years.

In line with traditional ideals of egalitarianism and transparency, the Finnish Tax Administration has provided the press with a list of the highest-income Finns' tax data. The 'tax day' in early November, when this information is published in many media outlets, is unusual in international terms.

For the past two years, however, high-income earners have had the opportunity to request the removal of their data from the list. Last autumn, there were so many requests, some 4,600, that making a comprehensive listing proved challenging.

The court also ordered the Tax Administration to release the names of those removed from the lists in previous years.

The Tax Administration had justified the change as being in line with the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which took effect in 2018.

Several Finnish media outlets, including Yle, filed complaints with the Helsinki Administrative Court about the redaction of the list of names. The court issued its decision in late April.

Return to the status quo

The final decision is unusual. According to the Administrative Court, the disclosure of one's information to the media may continue to be opposed. But on the other hand, the media have a right to have the names of those who opposed the disclosure of this information.

In practice, this means a return to the status quo – as everyone’s tax information has been public all along, if specifically requested.

"After all, income tax information is, and has always been public, if requested by name. Now that we also have to reveal the names of those who object, the right to object is in practice moot," Tax Administration communications director Kati Kalliomäki said in a press release.

The tax office said it is satisfied with the court's decision and does not intend to appeal, and that it will continue to provide a list of the highest income earners for media use – though it does not have a statutory obligation to do so.