As you will recall, with the new Invoicing Regulation, which came into force in 2013, the legislator (in keeping with the purpose set out in the Community Directive) wanted to give a major boost to electronic invoicing
Thus, with regard to the means of issuing invoices, it was stipulated that invoices could be issued by any means, on paper or in electronic format, provided that the person liable for payment could be guaranteed the authenticity of their origin, the integrity of their content and their legibility.
The Regulation expressly states that an electronic invoice is an invoice that complies with the provisions of this Regulation and that has been issued and received in electronic format.
In accordance with this definition, an invoice issued in electronic form would be valid provided that it guarantees the authenticity of its origin and the integrity of its content and its legibility from the time it is issued and throughout the period of its storage. The elements of authenticity and integrity could be guaranteed, for example, by an electronic signature, or by electronic data interchange (EDI) or any other means that the taxpayer has previously communicated to the AEAT.
Now the General Directorate of Taxes, through consultation V2891-18, has come to confirm that
- An invoice issued and received in electronic format will be considered to be an electronic invoice, even if it was originally issued on paper and subsequently digitised by the supplier.
- On the other hand, an invoice that, having been issued and printed by the supplier, is received in this same format and subsequently digitized by the recipient of the invoice for its conservation, will not be considered as an electronic invoice.
In other words, the fact that an invoice in PDF format is electronic is the means used to issue and receive it: an invoice in PDF format issued and received by e-mail will be a valid invoice, regardless of the fact that it has not been digitally signed by the issuer.
Therefore, an invoice issued on paper that is subsequently scanned, sent by e-mail and received by its recipient by the same means, is considered a valid invoice for the purposes of the Value Added Tax Act and the Invoicing Regulations, even if said invoice does not bear a digital signature.
Both electronic and paper invoices must meet certain guarantee requirements (they must guarantee the authenticity of their origin and the integrity of their content). These requirements may be guaranteed by any legally admissible means of proof. One particular means of guaranteeing the authenticity of the origin and integrity of the content of the invoice, which the Regulation cites as an example, is through the usual management checks on the company’s business or professional activity, provided that they make it possible to create a reliable audit trail establishing the necessary connection between the invoice and the delivery of goods or services which it documents.
Although the Regulation cites this as an example, the way/means of guaranteeing the authenticity of the origin, the integrity of the content and the legibility of the invoices can always be freely chosen.
In this respect, the digital signature of electronic invoices is only a means of proving the authenticity of the origin and the integrity of the content of the electronic invoice; hence a digital signature is not a necessary requirement for a PDF invoice to be valid.
With regard to the storage of invoices by electronic means, the consultation also reminds us of the necessary requirements:
- They must be stored in such a way as to ensure their legibility in the original format in which they were received or sent and, where appropriate, that of the associated data and signature verification mechanisms or other authorised elements that guarantee the authenticity of their origin and the integrity of their content.
- They must be kept by means that guarantee online access to the data, as well as their remote loading and use by the tax authorities at their request and without unjustified delay. Full access shall be understood as that which allows for viewing, selective search, online copying or downloading, and printing.
As we see in the previous requirements, there is no need to keep a paper copy of the invoices received electronically. Nor should a paper copy be kept with respect to invoices received on paper that have been scanned for preservation by electronic means.