Friday, April 29, 2005

It's That Time Again Folks!

Yep, it's tax time!

The tax system in the USA simply baffles me. You see, in England we have a simple pay as you earn system. Every payday, depending on how much you earn, a percentage is taken out of your paypacket. Unless you're self employed, you don't have to file a return. Once a year, you either get a refund or a bill. Simple!

Things this year have got really convoluted. You see, I came to the USA on a Fiance visa. After a 2 year process and a hell of a lot of cash spent, I finally got my visa. I thought that would be the end of the process...not so. Now I have to register for a work permit and a status change (and the wheels of government turn slowly, something that is the same the world over), I've been here for a year, and still don't have my permit.

So my wife files her taxes, as we're married I have to be included on it. Now of course, I don't have a work permit, so I've not worked since I've been here. Apparently, however, on top of the other 60,000 forms I've currently got out there for my Status change, I now have to apply for a Tax identification number.

How do these people's minds work?

Here's their thinking:

This person doesn't have a social security number, therefore he can't work, therefore he won't be paying any taxes, therefore he isn't in the system.

I have to register with them and get a special number to prove I'm not known to the tax system.

In other words I have to register the fact that I'm not registered.

I can't wait for this to spread around the rest of the country. I'm looking forward to applying for my "Licence to not have a drivers licence" my "Title deed to no property" and I'm definately looking forward to my "licence to not own a hunting licence."

Seriously though folks, I don't want any people to think I'm America bashing. The simple truth is I love this country, if I didn't I wouldn't be living here. I actually used to work for the British Government, which isn't as grand as it sounds, I was one of those awful people that deal in unemployment.

That brings me to my point. I've seen both sides in the People-Government situation, and I have to say, when you're dealing with a low level official (In other words the person who answers the phone, or the person you deal with in the office), bear in mind that they think the system is just as needlessly complicated as you, had no hand in designing it and most of the time are just as baffled by it as you. They need a job just like anyone else, and are in the job for the paycheck...It's like the person who works in lost luggage at the airport. Do you think any five years old thinks: "I want to work in lost luggage and get screamed at by an endless stream of irritable, jet lagged people every day for little pay. That's the career for me!"? Of course not.

Back to my point. As an example from my own country. Someone in management had the great idea of 'Tax Credits", in other words, more free money for people who need it. However, they launched a full TV campaign publicizing it, and gave out benefit office numbers on their website saying the people who deal with your unemployment check can also give you all the information you need and can even process your claim over the phone.

Seems sensible doesn't it? The same people you're used to dealing with can help you with this new benefit and by not employing new people to process the claims, they're saving the taxpayer money. It seems like a wonderful system, doesn't it?

Of course, with Government, nothing is ever that simple. For one, they forgot that benefit paying officers are ridiculously overworked, and can barely keep up with their regular duties. (Why do you think everything takes so long? No one enjoys getting screamed at over the phone or threatened with physical violence, if they could pay you and make you happy, it is in everyone's best interest.) I've personally been accused of racism and being anti-muslim because someone's claim was wrapped up in red tape, despite the fact I'd only dealt with that person over the phone and had no clue what colour, religion or creed he was. I didn't enjoy it, and would have been a lot happier if I could have paid that guy right away. It's wasn't my fault I needed 3 extra forms and a copy of his visa because that person wasn't a british citizen.

That's something else people don't know, if a government worker dealing in taxes or benefits knowingly lets something slide for speed's sake, they can actually be imprisoned for fraud.

Here's the real clincher though. Remember that big advertising campaign I was telling you about? That started up a full 6 months before any admin staff in the benefits agency was told about it or given any training. Most people who called in that first 6 months got the answer "Tax credits? What the hell are tax credits?"

In other words, the biggest problem with government and big business is the people in charge come up with ideas that work on paper, seem sensible, but are completely impractical in the real world. For example, the idea instituted in the Netherlands:

The Dutch government bought a few hundred bikes, painted them green and left them around the city centres, The idea was people could use them to get around, and when finished leave them outside for someone else, solving pollution, traffic congestion and transporation problems at a stroke!

48 hours later, not a single bike was left, every single one stolen.

Here's my idea. Right now, all the top level 'decision makers" in government and business (The ones who use words like 'synergy', 'streamlining' and 'global profitability'), should all be made to work for a year in the lowest level of their organisation, you know, the people like you and me who do the actual work. Rather than them waking up in the middle of the night, scribbling "save money with X, Y and Z - Admin staff can do it", hugging themselves and then going to the boardmeeting the next day for backslaps and pay raises, they can actually see the carnage their great ideas cause.

I'll finish today with a joke that I think sums everything up.

An executive is walking around an office and gets lost, he walks into and room and shouts "You there! Tell me where I am!"

The office worker says simply "You're in an office."

The executive says "You must be admin."

"How do you know?" the admin replies

"I asked a question, the answer you gave me was perfectly accurate, but didn't give me any new information or help me one bit."

"Ah!" Says the admin. "You must be an executive."

"How do you know?"

"You have a problem, you're in exactly the same situation you were before you ever met me, but now it's my fault."

People, whether you're dealing with your taxes, buying a pair of jeans, trying to get an unemployment check or simply ordering food, when it goes wrong, don't shout at the guy giving you the bad news...ask to see the manager, and let them have it!

1 comment:

serendipity said...

At least it shows how some things can work out. My boyfriend is a US citizen from North Carolina, but since we are not engaged (and havent been together long enough for that to happen) when he leaves the UK in July it looks like i'm going to lose him. Unless you have any tips at all for how I can get myself a US visa without getting engaged?? If so please email me, my address is