Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Tax evasion

It was never hard to be a tax evader in Greece - the path was paved quite clearly. In fact, as long as the concept exists, it's not hard to be a tax evader anywhere.

When I left NZ, I made sure I had no outstanding debts, which was quite easy for me, since I didn't have an overdraft on my bank account, I had no credit cards and I did not have any tax debts. My last NZ tax payment was made a few months after I left NZ permanently, after my previous year's revenue was examined. When I began living in Athens, I wanted to ensure that my officially legal tax status would continue. Every year, I'd file my tax forms like all Greeks, declaring what income I made from my job and I'd state my expenses, mainly through rental receipts, which never showed the full amount, because my landlord was a classic Greek property owner, who never declared the full amount that he was receiving from his tenant (he would only declare the amount that I would be taxed for).

At the time, I wasn't a property or vehicle owner. Because I was a full-time paid employee of a firm, I was viewed by the Greek tax department as a salaried employee whose taxes were taken out of her monthly salary; therefore I could not owe anything to the state through my job, because tax was already being paid via my employer (who was highly reputable and paid his employees both well and on time). But there was one area which I couldn't declare, and that was the income I was receiving from ιδιαίτερα, which literally translates to 'particulars', but which every Greek citizen knows to mean 'private lessons', a form of freelance teaching: one-to-one lessons, in a private home (either the teacher's or the student's), paid at a higher rate than other forms of teaching (eg at a frontistirio), with no receipt/invoice issued. This system is as old as the modern Greek education system, seen as a way to acquire the knowledge required to pass school examinations and diploma-based foreign language tests.

I couldn't declare the income generated from ιδιαίτερα, because I was a salaried employee: the law at the time stated that you could either be a salaried employee, or a freelance worker - not both. When I mentioned to my colleagues that this didn't make sense (I was making almost as much money from my freelance teaching as I was from my salaried work), they would always laugh and say: "You're not in NZ now - that's the way things are done here." Athens was too large and messy and impersonal for me to bother with finding out if there was a way to be a legal tax-paying hard-working citizen in Greece, while working in two similar (but in the eyes of state, dissimilar) kinds of jobs. I left that for when I decided to live in Crete.

Hania was (and generally still is) a small town, especially useful for getting bureaucratic business done quickly, especially in my case because I lived in the centre of town at the time. In my first winter here, I decided to visit the tax offices, all centralised for the whole province in one big building near the Agora, to find out if there was a way to declare all my earnings. I must have first gone to some kind of information desk (in mid-1990s Greece, there really was no such thing as an information desk in the state services), and stated my problem to the employee: how to legally declare freelance teaching income if I am also a salaried employee. His initial reaction was that there is no need to do so, if I am already receiving a salary (what everyone else was telling me).

I kept insisting: how would I declare my income as a freelance teacher if I weren't a salaried employee in the first place? He directed me to the office that issues receipt booklets to freelancers (of any kind, not just teaching). I explained what I wanted to do; this tax office employee also said the same thing as the previous employee. He then went on to expalin to me that if I wanted to ask for such a booklet, I'd have to fill in an application form, and pay an upfront tax fee for it, before I even issued a single receipt: something in the range of 30,000-50,000 drachmas if I remember correctly, which was about half an average salary at the time.

I explained that I would probably be making about that much a year from my freelance teaching, so this was not convenient for me. He reiterated that I didn't need to delcare this income (remember, we are in the state tax offices) because I was 'already paying tax' as a salaried employee. I kept insisting that there must be a way to declare this extra income (in retrospect, I think he thought I was completely nuts). He directed me to yet another office, where this time one woman was working alone in it. She said pretty much the same thing to me as did the previous two employees. The year was 1996.

Yes, most people who have heard this story before did tell me I was completely out of my mind, and I should leave well enough alone; they were the same people who told me I should never have declared the full rental incomes I was receiving after I became a property owner. I continued to declare my rent income in full, but I really could not declare my freelance teaching income, no matter what I did. So I just left at that. What else could I do, apart from become a menace to cosy convenience?

PS: I stopped doing ιδιαίτερα since I had children.

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