Sunday, 17 February 2008

The taxman

Income tax in the UK is high. I have heard it said on a few international job forums that the UK tax authorities are the biggest pirates around. Relative to a lot of other nations it is very high and it is one of, if not the main issue come election time. But we do get value for money, don’t we? Despite what opposition ministers and Joe Public say some of the services we get in the UK are priceless. We have, in theory, the most wonderful health care system in the world and although it does have its flaws it is still far superior to most health care systems in the world’s other developed nations. The fire service provides a service that cannot and should not be measured in a monetary sense and there are a multitude of other services that are paid for using money gained from taxation.

Some countries have a pay as you go system when it comes to tax and things like healthcare and it may well seem preferable in the short term because of the reduced level of taxation and the increase in your weekly or monthly wage but when you are in a position where you cannot find health insurance and cannot afford to pay for an operation, our system is better, and more humane. Personally I would probably benefit from a system where you pay for what you use more than most as I am young, fit, healthy and rarely need to visit the doctor, dentist or hospital, I maintain my smoke alarms, have no dependants and have no involvement with the police, although I do concede that accidents can happen at anytime to anyone. I would however oppose any such system. I mean what sane person would rather take their chances with hospital bills or trying to get household insurance to cover the cost of the fire service bills for extinguishing the pile of burning embers that used to be their house?

The system in the UK needs tweaking but wholesale changes would be silly.

But even I, liberal, socialist, humanist would object to paying for these fantastic services if I couldn’t use them.

If you notice I said couldn’t not didn’t.

The general public would love a tax rebate every year based on the amount of times the police had to be called to their address or the number of times the fire brigade had to rescue your cat from a tree, I’m sure there would be plenty of false claims too! John Simpson mentions in one of his books that he did indeed get offered (and I’m sure accepted) a tax rebate from the Inland Revenue because he had not been in the UK for an extended period, he suggested that it was due to his not using public services such as hospitals etc.

The reason I said couldn’t and not didn’t is that I fully expect to have to pay income tax even if I don’t use any of the services that are paid for by that tax. It is having these services at our beck and call that makes the tax payable. But if you were unable, as Mr. Simpson was, to use these services then surely you would object to paying for them, wouldn’t you?

My girlfriend is currently experiencing the strange phenomena of being charged for the privilege of not using the public services in the UK. After filling in a mountain of forms to announce her leaving and subsequent returning to the UK she was presented with a tax bill. We were both out of the UK for a period of around 15 months working and travelling but, according to the tax office she was resident in the UK. Why that sounds stupid you say. Well, yes it does and after getting repetitive strain injury from dialing the same number for the tax office to get an answer, we finally got one. Because we hadn’t been out of the UK for a full tax year (April to April) we, or rather she, as I haven’t had any letters from the tax office, was presented with a bill. Our firefighters are worth a lot more than they are paid but not so much that we should get a bill for services not rendered, or with no possibility of rendering.

I think the jobs-worth at the Inland Revenue didn’t fully understand the question or dismissed it because she deals with hundreds of these kinds of inquiries every day and I am just an ant in the colony and can be fobbed off, well not this ant. The ₤800 or more isn’t getting paid, at least if she listens to me and if I have to hand my passport in, strap myself to the under carriage of a lorry and illegally stow away into another country then that’s what I’ll do.

Why should she but handed a tax bill for not using services. A cynic might say "why does she have to pay for someone to have a boob job or a stomach stapling operation". People who lie and cheat and steal from the government seem to get rewarded with help for self inflicted conditions and big houses for their 13 children and honest people who fill in forms accurately get a bill fucking tax bill. Injustice isn’t nearly a strong enough word.

I hate the way the government makes me sound like a Daily Mail reader because that couldn’t be further from the truth. I will always champion the little man, the dissenter over the government and condemn the millionaire who resides abroad for tax reasons but when the little man gets stepped on, it really pisses me off.

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