Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Not your average bucket and spade holiday

What did you get up to on your holiday? If you're asked that question after a break in Greece you might soon be able to reply that you'd been working as an amateur tax inspector.

Apparently, the Greek government has come up with the idea of taking on a whole host of people - some of them holidaymakers - to help sniff out businesses that are evading paying tax.

By virtue of who these amateur tax inspectors are, they won't be so obvious so the dodgy businesses will be discovered more readily.

Yes, I thought it sounded a bit bonkers, too, but then tax is a BIG thing here. Or more precisely the non-payment of tax is a big thing.

I'd be surprised if people in Greece didn't try to slip through the tax net. Partly it's human nature - it's almost inevitable people feel they'd like to hang on to their money - and partly I suspect it's a feeling that a few euros here or there aren't going to make much difference to a government that's got its back against the financial wall.

I would guess that's been the view for many years. Greece is a very bureaucratic country which seems to have trouble enforcing its red tape so tax collection must be difficult.

Pretty well every business you go in to in Greece has a notice which says something along the lines of "customers are not obliged to pay if they do not receive a receipt". I've never actually tried to follow the letter of the law and not pay because I didn't get a receipt and yet for so many low value transactions I never see a receipt at all.

Do I care? Not a bit. I pay my few euros for bread, coffee, newspaper or whatever and the shopkeeper can do as he or she pleases with the money. It is probably that attitude that causes the Greek tax authorities such a headache when it comes to collecting the money.

Incidentally, there are times when I have receipts thrust at me and the person giving me the receipt will say with a grin: "The taxmen are about".

You certainly shouldn't go away with the idea that it's only small businesses that work a fiddle. The story below was told to me by someone who lived in Greece, whose word I would never doubt and whose circumstances I knew, which is why I am sure the story is true. I will not put names in order to protect their identity.

So, this person needed an operation and elected to go private rather than go through medical insurance because to go private would get the relatively minor procedure done more speedily. There was a consultation with the surgeon who agreed to do the operation. The surgeon then named a price for the work which would be if my friend had a receipt. However the surgeon offered a reduced price if there was no receipt and the account was settled in cash.

As my friend said: "You feel you should do the right thing and pay the official price, but you know you'd be a fool because nobody else does." Therein, I think, lies the problem for the government.

Anyway, until the Greek government works out a way to solve their tax problems here's Income Tax Blues  by Ralph Willis.

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