In the dispute over reclaims of Corona emergency aid, the North Rhine-Westphalian Higher Administrative Court on Friday annulled erroneous decisions. Thus, the OVG agreed with the view of the administrative courts from the lower instance. However, the Land may, after advice from the court, reassess the final decisions and thus reclaim overpaid amounts. The court did not allow an appeal on a point of law. An appeal against this is possible at the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig.
The plaintiffs, including a tax consultant, an owner of a beauty salon and the operator of a fast food restaurant, had received 9000,<> euros in emergency aid as self-employed or entrepreneurs in the spring. Federal and state aid programs were intended to prevent a collapse of the economy during the first lockdown.
After three months, the state sent final notices and demanded around 7000,<> euros back. According to the OVG, wording errors had occurred due to time pressure, which had led to understandable false expectations among the recipients. For example, it was unclear whether the aid was intended to replace lost sales, payment problems or maintenance.
"If something is formulated ambiguously, it is at the expense of the country"
The funds from state and federal programmes based on EU law were intended exclusively to alleviate pandemic-related financial emergencies. This was intended to bridge liquidity bottlenecks in particular, the court said in its reasoning. However, the state had demanded information that was ultimately unsuitable for determining the correct amount of funding. "The extent to which subsidies were actually used during the approval period within the framework of the earmarking of the funding could not be stated there," the judgement states.
"If something is formulated ambiguously, it is at the expense of the country," said the presiding judge Wolf Sarnighausen. During the hearing, which lasted more than seven hours, he had criticised both the country and the expectations of some applicants. Although the country had formulation problems, it should have been clear to everyone that overpaid money had to be repaid.
He conceded to the country that the mistakes had arisen under high time pressure, "in the interest of rapid help". Thus, the country had made contradictory statements. Thus, the information in the application did not coincide, at least for a short time, with information pages of the Ministry.
One of the plaintiffs had repeatedly pointed out his loss of sales during the pandemic. According to the court, however, there is no evidence in the proceedings that the aid is intended to compensate for this. It is solely about alleviating financial distress of a company or self-employed in connection with the corona pandemic.
Around 2500 lawsuits had accumulated at the country's seven administrative courts. The path now shown by the OVG is necessary, said the presiding judge, because the country could not work with the decisions of the administrative courts.