Taxfix study shows: Bureaucratic language - a problem for everyone

Regardless of education and gender (Press release of May 22, 2024)

Taxfix study shows: Bureaucratic language - a problem for everyone, regardless of education and gender

Berlin, 22.05.2024: Recipients of mail from public institutions in Germany often face long sentences, complicated words, and bureaucratic jargon. This raises an important question: how challenging is official German bureaucratic language for the average citizen?

Taxfix, the leading finance platform for tax-filing, partnered with language experts from WORTLIGA to conduct a representative study involving over 2,000 people. The study aimed to assess how well citizens understand German bureaucratic language. The findings were striking: only four percent of respondents said they find the language used by authorities understandable. This lack of clarity is not just frustrating but can lead to serious issues. For instance, 75 percent of respondents do not understand the term "progression proviso." Furthermore, 23 percent admitted they do not complete their tax returns because the language is too difficult to understand.

Difficult language: Three quarters feel overwhelmed by official German

The study highlights how overwhelmed citizens in Germany feel about the complex language used by authorities. The results reveal that only one in five Germans understands official correspondence on the first reading. More than two-thirds of respondents (69 percent) stated that they have to read letters several times. Additionally, almost half (47 percent) of those surveyed always need help from another person to understand the content.

No wonder three out of four Germans (75 percent) feel overwhelmed by the language used by authorities. This feeling of being overwhelmed is just one of many reactions. Official German is perceived as "bureaucratic" (40%), "difficult to understand" (28%), and "confusing" (26%). One in five (17%) even describe it as "opaque and complex."

Bureaucratic language leads to financial disadvantages

Nearly half (48 percent) of citizens have trouble understanding official letters from authorities and find the bureaucratic language incomprehensible (46 percent). Effective communication and mutual understanding between the state and its citizens are crucial, as misunderstandings can lead to serious issues.

One in four has already experienced financial disadvantages due to difficult-to-understand official language. Men (29 percent) are more affected than women (21 percent). One in three has faced financial losses such as reductions or penalties, and 41 percent have had to pay late fees.

In front of official language, we are all equal: perplexed

Interestingly, there are hardly any differences among sociodemographic characteristics: It doesn't matter where people come from, how much they earn, their level of education, age, or gender. Thus, official language is a major barrier for everyone. It can lead to more time consumption, frustration, and even financial disadvantages.

Martin Ott, CEO of Taxfix, is alarmed by these results: "Our study shows that over three-quarters of Germans feel overwhelmed by bureaucratic language. This is unacceptable. The state and its institutions must communicate complex matters more clearly and simply. Taxfix bridges this gap, helping all parties involved and easing the burden on the state by making the tax return process easier to understand and more inclusive. We are convinced that easier access and the reduction of language barriers will strengthen citizens' trust in the authorities."

Demand for clearer language for everyone

The criticism of bureaucratic language is not new. However, the state has done too little to change this so far. At least that's what nearly two-thirds of Germans (64 percent) believe. The majority (85 percent) of respondents consider it important that official documents be designed to be barrier-free and use simple, generally understandable language.

Requested: These 5 measures make bureaucratic language more understandable

It's not that difficult. The respondents have concrete ideas on how authorities can improve their use of language:

  • Every second person therefore wishes for a clearer, more everyday language without unnecessary technical terms.

  • Clearly formulated calls to action that make the next steps clear are desired by 37 percent.

  • One in three wishes for user-friendly formats that are easy to read and understand.

  • Additions with examples or graphical representations for clarification would be supported by 25 percent of the respondents.

  • Nearly a quarter of the study participants (24 percent) also wish for the provision of easily understandable online resources and explanations on common topics. Additionally, there is a demand for the provision of support services, such as hotlines or personal advisory services for citizens who need additional help.

"Language should transform from a barrier to a bridge: clear and understandable language facilitates smooth communication. This eases the burden on authorities, especially during times of skilled labor shortages. In addition to fostering closer ties with citizens, this would also allow more time for individual cases," explains language expert Gidon Wagner from WORTLIGA.

About the study:

For the study commissioned by Taxfix, the market research company Qualtrics, in cooperation with WORTLIGA, surveyed a representative sample of 2,039 people aged 18 and over in Germany from February 13 to March 14, 2024.

About Taxfix

Taxfix Group is Europe’s leading financial platform for tax filing, with over 5 million submitted tax returns across Germany, Italy and Spain. Taxfix’s mission is to fix finances for all, ensuring everyone can navigate their finances with confidence. The platform with its brands, Taxfix, Steuerbot and now TaxScouts (active in the UK and Spain), offers a broad range of innovative tax filing solutions tailored to diverse user needs and preferences. From the simple self-filing service app and browser solutions to the expert-service, a guided service where certified tax advisors handle the entire tax return process, Taxfix Group provides easy-to-use tax filing solutions.

The group comprises over 400 professionals, including tax experts, developers, and IT security experts, and has facilitated more than 3.5 billion euros in tax refunds for its customers. Founded in 2016, Taxfix Group is backed by renowned investors such as Index Ventures, Valar Ventures, Creandum, Redalpine and Teachers’ Venture Growth (TVG).