Tax is exactly that: it is a necessary evil. Don't get me wrong, I am not getting into the neo-liberal debate of whether or not we are paying too much tax. In fact, I am rather fine with the concept of paying a tax, as long as it is used properly and without wastage. No my main concern about tax is the fact that it is also a tax on your time.
The French case epitomise what I am complaining about. In the Hexagon the fiscal system works a posteriori when it comes to income tax. This means that the tax payer needs to complete a fiscal year which, alleluia, is also the calendar year, and then declare the amount of revenue that was earned during the twelve months. And as usual when it comes to administrative tasks in France, you can be sure that there is at least a dozen forms to fill, in three different leaflets... Fortunately with the digital era this paperwork becomes binary work, but that does not prevent us from having those lovely nerve-breaking nights where you cover your sitting room in folders, receipts, letters from so or so, in order to fill the right box with the right amount, and to document obviously any entry.
I have not lived in the US (yet), so I cannot testify if that is better or worse there, although my colleagues from across the pond would be rolling their eyes in despair in light of my doubt. The one thing that I can comment on is that the British system is a lot easier, and less cumbersome... Well so I thought.
Bright side of life
The income tax in the UK is a lot more straight forward for employees. As a matter of fact you are paying your toll straight from your salary, immediately before it lands on your bank account. Your accounting department is in charge of paying Her Majesty Revenue & Customs. This means that the money you receive is net, and really represents the money you can play with... Unlike in France where you theoretically need to save to be able pay your due once the fiscal year has closed. I say theoretically as how many of us had the sudden epiphany in April to realise: "sh#t, I need to pay my tax... but also my May holidays. Too bad, but I really need some sun. Come and get me, I am in sunny Spain, you grey suit!" (OK, the runaway never last long, but always worth the try, no?).
But back to the UK. When I was briefly explained how tax was working here 6 years ago, I welcome the time-tax relief and started to enjoy the paperwork-free world of tax paying in my host nation. After all, no declaration, no paperwork, no last minute rambling, no worries... Except, that like any rules there are exceptions, and of course you tend not to pay attention to these footnotes. You prefer to look at the bright side of life, tadam tadam tadamtadamtadam...
So when you receive a first letter from the HM R&C, you think this is a mistake after all I have already paid my tax. Tadam tadam tadamtadamtadam... When you receive the second letter from HM R&C, you start to think that you should advise them to improve their database management. Tadam tadam tadamtadamtadam... And then twelve month later, when it is time to start to close the following fiscal year, the postman drops you another type of letter. This ones does not make you shrug, it makes you shiver... What the fuck? According to the paper in front of you, you learn that since you have not declared your revenue a year before, you are now liable to a fine and a daily penalty until you proceed. Suddenly, the music in your head changes. You start hearing the noise of the cash register. Tching, tching, tching...
A hint of French touch after all.
OK, that must be a mistake. A quick call to the help line reveals that I should have read the footnote on the 2345 pages of the HM R&C website. Employees do not have to declare individually their income, unless... unless you are also self-employed. Nope. Unless you are a director... Still nope. Unless you earn more than a certain amount of money. Surely I am nowhere that salary. Money is not my driver in life. As long as I have enough not to think about it too much, I am happy, so I am really not on top of these things. But as far as I remembered the last time I checked I was nowhere near that threshold.
After a few days of investigation - tching, tching, tching -, I realise that due to some strange star alignments in the cosmos, including apparently my lucky star, I have received some exceptional bonuses and benefits that just brought me over that threshold. But literally just over, by a dozen pounds... OK, let's follow the instructions then and let's get the record straight.
According to the website and the person from the call centre, the best practise is to pay your fine first, and then challenge it if you feel it is not relevant, and more importantly to declare your revenue as soon as possible. Tching, tching, tching. The "fastest" way is to do it online. If there is one thing I love about the web nowadays, it is its immediacy, but I suddenly realised that French engineers may have helped set up the web process as, in a nutshell, here are the steps I went through.
Since I never had to engage directly with HM R&C I needed to create my online account. After filling a online form, I was informed that a unique identifier would be sent to me, by post, to complete the profile creation... Tching, tching, tching. A week and half later (yes, Royal Mail is not the fastest), I received a cryptic code which was supposed to help me get closer to resolution. Yes! It worked: I had an online profile. What next? Where can I tell you how much I earned, happily pay my due, and stop that "tching, tching, tching..." from freaking me out. The answer: I needed to apply for the service. And guess what? It required another unique identifier, which also could only be delivered by post. Tching, tching, tching. I really thought at that point of time that I was in an official scam: the British government, to fill its bank accounts, was putting as many hurdles in front of me to ensure that my check to their services was the largest possible... Machiavellian, evilly thought through, but without a doubt efficient. No wonder the finance minister is named the Chancellor of the Exchequer!
A Swiss influence?
I finally got that code, rushed to my computer, validated my service request, entered the various information in the relevant boxes, press submit... And collected my jaw which had dropped on the table. On the screen in front of me the website announced me that I was not owing anything to the Queen, but that on the contrary HM R&C was to send me a check as I would have paid too much... Calling that an anticlimax! In essence I had to be fined and charged to receive some money back... British humour I supposed.
I certainly could not close that case here. So I decided to assert my French origins, and pulled out one of my administrative claim letter templates. We receive them at birth in France, as they prove so helpful... Just need to input the name of the administration you have grievance towards, and here you go! Anyway, having explained my case, my diligent treatment of the situation and how despite the traps and tricks of the system, I managed to get as fast as I could to the end of the fiscal maze... I got heard. The fine was reimbursed, and no daily charge was billed to me. Katching! After all, maybe the Monthy Python were right, there is a silver lining in every cloud.
Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best
And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...
Tadam tadam tadamtadamtadam...