Wednesday 3 September 2014

Talking logic with the tax department

Freshwater Beach, Harbord, Sydney, while living nearby I learned the mail only brings bad news.
Another one of those weeks, highlighted by a truly bizarre exchange with the tax department.
This all started a couple of weeks ago when my friend Becky told me that there was a letter for me at her place.
My heart sank, the mail never brings good news.
Have you noticed that?
My main recollection of this phenomena was when I was working back in Sydney an an IT contractor.
As a contractor I would do a week here, a month there, sometimes a six-month block, and sometimes I would have a few jobs on the go at once.
Anyway, for this reason I would often get the Herald on Saturday and go to the IT part of the employment section.
Most of the jobs there would be listed under the different employment consultants firms, and they would often have ten or twenty jobs that I could do, web designer was my job title.
There were five or six big firms advertising there, and so some Saturdays I would apply, with my CV attached, via email, for sixty or more jobs.
For reasons that I've never satisfactorily been able to explain, if they turned me down for a job, they would send me a snail-mail letter, rather than an email.
If they wanted me for the job, or at least an interview, they would call me on the phone.
Thus, if the news was they weren't going to employ me, they would send a letter.
The upshot of that was that our postman would sometimes deliver me forty or so rejection letters on a single day.
In the beginning, I would open the letters and read of my rejection, but as time went by, I began to throw them in the recycling bin unopened, knowing full well the contents.
So that period of my life set up the pattern of "the mail only brings bad news", so why bother reading it?
So this recent Sunday, I tried to relax and leave it for Monday, but the worm of anxiety got to me and I decided to get it over with.
I cycled round to Becky and Tom's house and got the letter.
It had a window on the front.
In fact, it had two.
It looked bad.
It was bad.
It was from the tax department.
Douglas Adams famously wrote, "It is not surprise that the phrase 'pretty as an airport', does not exist in any language.
Elsewhere I've written of three things you never want to hear: "You better come and see me from your doctor", "audit" from your accountant and "head gasket", from your mechanic.
So today I'll add to the list by saying this: "Never in the course of human history, has a therapist ever said to a mentally ill patient, 'what you need is a letter from the tax department, that'll really fix you up'".
I am of course a raving nut job, perennially mentally ill, though better these days, thanks to not drinking mainly.
However, if anything was going to send me back to the damn drink, it was this letter.
So the letter said:
"Dear f%^king dole bludger,
We note with glee that you haven't done your tax return for 2014, and it's now overdue.
Please rectify this at the earliest, or we will come round to your house and take the pittance that you are currently eaking out a living on.
Of course, we are picking you because you're an easy target, Gina Rinehart has stolen much more from the country, but she has high-priced lawyers, so we're picking on you."
Or words to that effect.
The nub was that I hadn't done my tax for this year.
And the reason for that was that last year, 2013, I went in to Centrelink in search of my group certificate, to do my tax.

I had long ago come to understand that trying to get away with anything with Centrelink is a hopelessly stressful process, and then and now, have always been honest with Centrelink.
Thus doing my tax on time was part of the regime.
Anyway, that year, 2013, the Centrelink staffer told me that because my main source of income is the Disability Services Pension, which is non-taxable, I no longer had to do a tax return.
[For my north American readers, Centrelink is the equivalent of your department of social security.]
"Okay", I said, "but what about my small gardening business income, surely I have to report that?"
"Yes", the staffer replied, "you need to do a profit-and-loss statement for the tax year 2012-13."
"Fine," I said, and went back to my desk, pulled up my work spreadsheet for the year, got the figures for my entire year's gardening, filled in the form, took it back to Centrelink, and lodged it.
All good.
So then when this year rolled around, I did the same thing, lodged my profit-and-loss for the year, then forgot all about it.
That is, until the letter arrived asking where my tax return was.
So Monday came and I phoned the tax department.
After some waiting I got through to a young woman.
"Er, yes", I said, "Um, I got a letter from your department saying I hadn't done my tax return and so am calling to check it out."
She said fine, took my tax file number, then pecked at her keyboard.
Eventually she replied, "Yes, Mr Barker, you do need to do a tax return for this year."
"Oh", I said, "But Centrelink told me last year that I didn't need to do one because my income is so low. Is this because of my small gardening business?"
She pecked again, then said: "Yes, that's correct, if you earn one dollar from a business, you need to do a tax return."
"Oh", I said, "does that mean I need to do one for last year as well?"
"Yes", she replied, "if you earned one dollar from a business in that year, you will need to do a return for that year as well."
"Why then", I returned, struggling to word it right, "did you not send me a letter last year then?"
To which she replied: "it's not the responsibility of the tax department to tell you to do a tax return."
I rubbed my forehead is bemusement, "So", I went on, "although you sent me a letter reminding me about this year, it wasn't the tax department's responsibility to send me one last year?"
She then stonewalled: "It is not the tax department's responsibility to tell you to do a tax return."
I wanted to go on, I had a few choice things I wanted to say to her, and the tax department as a whole.
However, if I've learned that trying to scam Centrelink is hard, another thing I, and indeed everyone on Earth, has learned, is don't piss off the tax department.
I should add, I've never tried to scam Centrelink willfully, any trouble I've ever had with them has been with trying to frantically report my erratic income correctly, invariably failing, and then getting the dread 'please explain' letter from Centrelink, and having to attend the office to sort it out.
So back to the woman at the tax department.
She then says: "Okay, so you need to do a return for this year and last year. When can you do it?"
To which I replied: "Does it matter? It's already a year late, isn't the fact that I'm going to do it enough?"
"No", she said, "I need an agreed filing date, or the tax department will commence legal action."
WHAT? Legal action?! To recover what? I don't owe the tax department anything from my two returns, what were they planning to take I cannot even conjecture about, my surfboard (Net worth $100), or perhaps my car (net worth: even less than my surfboard).
[I've now filed the two returns, my taxable income for 2013 was $1,400 and for 2014, $480.]
So at this point I just wanted to be off the damn phone and a million kilometres from this mess, so I took a guess, "how about two weeks from today's date?"
She then pecked at her keyboard and then said: "Okay, that will be fine Mr Barker, you will file your two returns by September 8, and that will mean we don't have to commence legal action."
"Fine", I grumped into the phone.
The woman then came close to death by saying, "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"
WHATTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!???????????, I screamed mentally, 'help', that's a laugh.
And 'else', that's laughable too, she hadn't helped with item one.
I wanted to answer, and by cripes it was a close thing, "Yes, it would greatly help me if you go out into the street and hurl yourself under the next passing bus and f^%&-ing well die."
Thankfully I didn't say that.
Instead I just ended with (and this is honestly what I said), "No, you've already done enough to increase my mental illness for the duration."
Then I hung up on her.

However, what it now meant was that instead of going surfing, or riding my bike, I had to now go home and find all the paperwork needed for two years of tax returns.
And just as I was contemplating that less then fun activity, Susanna, came over to my desk and said "there's a letter for you".
She nearly died as well.
It was hardly Susanna's fault, but clearly I was already gun-shy of letters.
The picture shows my state of mind more than adequately.
I saw with a sinking heart that this letter was from the NRMA, I say sinking, because this could only mean spending more money.
Sure enough it was a cunningly worded invitation to register my car for the next year, price for the Green Slip for this year was $400.
"Oh, for f%^*'s sake", I screamed internally.
Apart from anything else, all this was happening in winter, when I don't have much gardening work, and so my extra income is low: scratch that, nil.
So once again I rubbed my fevered brow, which was now rapidly developing grooves.
I gave a lugubrious sigh and decided well first things first, I better go and find all my paperwork for the tax.
I better at least do that.
But then just as I got up to go and do that, my phone beeped, indicating that I had a message.
I opened the message.
It was an automated message from my gym telling me that my autopay gym fees would be coming out of my bank account in three days.
It's only $34 but in the context of the above, it hit me like a Mike Tyson haymaker.
I sat back down at my desk and this time put my head in two hands.
This indicator of the disbursement of $34 may seem odd to many of you to get so upset about, but I can only say that when your income is as low as mine, even small things like this can be tipping point the likes of which lead to letter carriers returning to their place of work and firing rounds from a submachine gun at the assembled multitudes.
That's where the expression 'going postal' comes from by the way.
And man I was homing in.
So then I finally got up to go and find my paperwork.
But as I was walking out the door of my office, my phone beeped again.
I nearly jumped over the porch at the front of our building such was the state of my nerves, however this was a small good thing.
It was a gardening client, Amanda, asking if I could come and mow her lawn.
My manic Monday, with the tax department and other stressors on my mind.
Excellent, a little bit of money, so I texted her back and suggested I come out the next day, Tuesday of last week.
She agreed, and then I put the phone away.
I went to my place and began digging out paperwork, not enjoyable, but at least I had the promise of a little money coming in from Amanda's mow.
Well, that was all fine until about seven pm that night when a storm broke over the area the likes of which would have made Noah start hammering faster.
Most of us like being indoors on a rainy night, and I generally do, but this night as I watched the water tumble down I knew that I would not be mowing for a while.
A duck may have (just) made it across Amanda's lawn, me with a mower, never.
So I went about my business, with the tax thing looming over my fragile state of mind, and no work to speak of.
Then toward the end of the week things began to dry out and I got the text to go up to Joanne's place at Possum Creek and mow her lawn.
So Saturday I loaded up the car and off I went.
Joanne has/is been very valuable to me as a client, and never more so than now.
I told her of my money woes and the damn tax department, and she very generously agreed to pay me in advance for my next mow.
Terrific, I was slightly ahead.
Then with things drying out, my phone went nuts.
First Raelee at Suffolk Park called me, so I arranged to do her lawn on the Monday.
Raelee very conveniently lives next door to Amanda, so I teed that up as well.
Great, two lawns for the Monday.
I should preface this next bit by saying that to keep my mental illness stable I try to never to more than two lawns in a day.
However rainy periods are quite stressful, as often the first sunny day after a long period of wet, makes my phone ring with people wishing their lawns mowed, and then me, desperate for money, has to do more than two in a day.
And so it was, that on this Monday, I was just getting organised when the phone rang.
It was another valued client, Terry, asking if I could come down and do her lawn in Ballina today.
I hesitated, but then figured that Suffolk Park and Ballina were at least in the same direction, so agreed.
However, I have two lawns in Ballina, and so now this meant that I better do that one as well.
I phoned my other Ballina client, Caitlyn, and thankfully got through, she said, "yes", do the lawn.
So off I went, down to Ballina, two lawns done, then back in the car, back up the coast road, and into Suffolk Park.
Across two more lawns then finally homeward bound.
Tired but with the satisfactory feeling of having earned some money.
This picture shows me far to the left of the road.
So it was probably no surprise that this was the day that there was a traffic accident and I joined a nose-to-tail line of traffic inching slowly toward town.
No one likes traffic, but I suffer more than most because of my typically 'Lachlan' car: AKA falling apart, held together with duct tape, every day a new thing wrong with it.
When I bought the car my friend Tom told me that it had a leak in the head gasket.
However there is a treatment in it, a sort of gunk, that flows around the engine block and seals the leaks.
It works OK, but I have to check, and fill usually, the radiator before I drive even one kilometre.
So inching along in traffic is very stressful for me as it is the time when the most strain is on the radiator.
To alleviate this, each time we stopped dead, I turned the engine off.
[BTW: if you've ever wondered about the fuel consumption issue for doing this, if you're engine is off for more than forty five seconds, then you save fuel by switching off. Less than this and it's better to keep the engine running. Of course it's a gamble each time you switch off if your going to be stationary for more than 45 seconds.]
Another quirk I have though is that when stopped, I like to pull far over to the left, well away from oncoming traffic.
This is some odd fear that I'll be sideswiped by the oncoming traffic while still.
It doesn't make much sense, but then not much of mental illness does.
So at one point I pulled to the left and switched off, coincidentally next to a line of five garbage bins that were out on the curb for collection.
While sitting there, three motorcyclists came up on the inside to pass through the traffic jam.
The first two scraped through with a bit of effort, but the third rider was an immensely fat man on a true wanker-mobile, a fully decked out Harley which looked like it weighed as much as my car.
Bike and man probably would have gone over on the truck weighing scales.
Next thing I know he says, "could you have got any further over? Move your car", in an aggressive tone of voice.
Most of my trouble in life has been with depression, but I've had my temper incidents I can assure you.
One week at soccer for Sydney Uni I received the ironic Golden Handbag from a team mate, Steve Wade.
This award is given out each week for the stupidest thing done on the field.
An own goal, a bad tackle giving away a penalty, or something equally silly.
I got it for "inciting a riot".
We were playing an ethnic team with several hundred supporters on the sideline, dwarfing our own support of a few student's girlfriends.
I was put through on goal when an opposition defender grabbed my shirt and pulled me back.
Instead of running on, breaking his grip and scoring a goal, my temper launched in a millisecond, and I turned on the defender like an angry bear, and began remonstrating with him in the fiercest manner.
Their crowd stood up, things were getting ugly, and it was only the cooler heads among their supporters, and ours, and good control by the referee that stopped St John's oval being the site of a bloodbath.
I make that point because as this guy on the motor bike spoke to me so aggressively, the rounds of temper began to roll into the chamber.
My hands began to shake, the adrenalin flooded, and I was within an ace of getting out of the car, grabbing my pruning saw or mattock, and having a word with him.
However, thankfully, I seem to have learned something about life.
Only took me 49 years, but better late than never.
I quickly realized that having an angry incident here while stuck in traffic would not help me.
I would be upset and shaking for the rest of the day.
Also, he could see my numberplate, and minor though the fear was, I knew I would then always wonder whenever I parked my car if this guy would see it, recognize the plate and vandalise my car.
Also, and this is truly the power of bloggery, I knew I would be able to write it down here, and give my side of the story.
So I gave him a stare that would have ignited metal, then switched on and moved my car over.
He then said 'thank you' and rode off.
I'd like to think my stare gave him some semblance of understanding that he was dealing with a nutjob, but you can never know.
Anyway, I do feel better for having written it down, and I do feel better for not having got involved in an angry incident that could have had longer term ramifications in my life.
And I'll close by saying you can do no worse than check out the South Park episode where they deal with Harley riders.
The well made point of the episode is that because Harleys are unnaturally loud, (the emission control is scant, or non-existent, on purpose) everywhere the riders go, people turn to stare at them in annoyance at the thunderously loud disturbing-the-damn-peace noise they make.
The Harley riders in the episode say, "They must all think we're pretty cool, have you noticed that everyone looks at us when we go by?"
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Everyone turns to look at them because they are a bunch of wankers, not because they are cool.
And none more so than the one who I interacted with in the traffic.
See you next week for yet another ration of moaning about the state of the world and my position at the bottom of the financial tree.


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