Tax Resistance in Ireland, Britain, Spain, Catalonia, Chile, Italy, and Greece

Some international tax resistance news:

Ireland

The Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes continues its tax resistance campaign in Ireland.

The government introduced a set of amendments to the tax that are aimed at quieting the dissent, but campaign spokesman Bill Michael O’Brien says that, “the only change that can save this government is to scrap the property tax completely.”

[C]ompletely scrapping the property tax [would] reflect the reality for the hundreds of thousands of people out there struggling to make ends meet who didn’t pay the household charge last year and have no intention of paying the property tax this year.

Among the escalations in the campaign have been disruptions of council meetings. A few weeks ago, meetings in Dublin, Galway, and Kilkenny were disrupted by protesters — including a member of the European parliament — who were arrested. One protester noted: “The politicians are refusing to listen. They have refused to come to meetings organised by the campaign so it seems we have to bring our voices to them.”

Britain

Defend your home against the bedroom tax.

The government is instituting something its foes are calling the “Bedroom Tax” — essentially a cut in the housing benefit of people who get government assistance in paying their rent, if the government deems their home to be too large for their needs.

In other words, if you have two children and each has their own room, the government may say: why don’t you move into a smaller place and double-up? If you have a spare room, the government may say: you probably should rent that out to a lodger — we’re only going to help you pay for the rooms you need.

The Bedroom Tax affects nearly 700,000 households in the U.K. From , tenants of housing associations & social landlords will be hit by a possible 25% cut in their housing benefit if they under-occupy their home. This means: 1 spare room will see a 14% reduction in housing benefit; 2 spare rooms will see a 25% reduction in housing benefit. Many tenants will be expected to uproot their families, move away from their communities, their support networks and downsize to properties that simply do not exist; those who decide to stay will be constantly battling to make up the shortfall in rent. This should not be a question of move or stay; it should be about refusing to pay the tax full stop.

How the bedroom tax works… This is Buckingham Palace — one of many palaces and residences used by the taxpayer-funded Royal Family. Despite having 240 bedrooms, the bedroom tax will not apply. £15.1 million per year of your taxes is spent maintaining royal palaces. This is the eight bedroom home of Lord Freud, the welfare minister imposing the bedroom tax. The London home, worth an estimated £1.9 million, is essentially capped for Council Tax purposes, meaning he only pays three times as much as someone in a bedsit, worth only one-fifteenth of the value. Official estimates are that 95,000 families will be plunged into poverty due to his “bedroom tax” policy. This is the Hooper family. Two parents and five children live in a four-bedroom council house in Hull. Their disabled daughter has her own room — built as an extension, as her wheelchair doesn’t fit in the box room. They will lose £20 per week due to the bedroom tax as not all children are sharing a room. Now ask yourself, “whose home has too many bedrooms?”

According to The Independent, “Increasing numbers of poor communities are pledging to defy eviction threats amid mounting opposition to the Government’s ‘bedroom tax’, claiming they cannot — and will not — pay higher rents.”

A veteran of the 1980s anti-poll tax movement [Liz Kitching] says she is not going anywhere. “I feel worried, frightened, upset. But at the same time I am proud of the campaign and that does give me a little bit of confidence and hope because we did stop the poll tax. I am not a victim. This is a policy I am fighting back against.”

Spain

In Unfollow, Ariza Elisenda writes about civil disobedience in Spain, including tax resistance. Excerpts (translation mine):

From Conscientious Objection to Tax Resistance

The economist Arcadi Oliveres is president of the Justice & Peace foundation, an organization that supported the first conscientious objectors [to military service]. For 30 years it has promoted war tax resistance; in total there are 3,000 people across the country who refuse to pay the Treasury a portion of their taxes proportional to the Defense budget.

Oliveres gives an example with quantities that illustrate how this action is done: “If you are asked to pay 1,000 euros to the Treasury and during the year you have paid 800, when you make your tax return in June, 200 euros will remain to be paid. Well, if the Defense budget is 5% [of the federal budget], from these 200 you refuse to pay 10 euros. But you want to show that you don’t pay because of your disapproval of military spending and not because you don’t want to contribute. So you make your contribution of 10 euros to a non-governmental organization and ask for the receipt. When you make your tax return, you write a note explaining that you refuse a part of your taxes destined for Defense and provide the receipt from the donation you have made to the non-governmental organization.” What happens next? “If they happen to check your return (because it is proven that they do not check them all) they will send you a letter demanding the 10 euros. You ignore it and then they come back and send another letter in which, in addition to the 10 euros, they require of you 20 more for interest. Further demands follow and finally they will end up seizing the amount that remains from your bank account.”

To end up paying not only the quantity remaining to pay in your tax return, but also the interest, does not discourage Oliveres because “freedoms throught history never have been given, they have been captured.” He emphasizes that to avoid a year and a half in the army, the pioneering conscientious objectors spent three in jail, and, although the number of people in Spain doing tax resistance can be described as a “lackluster result,” he adds that “it is an educational and pressure tactic.”

When the Fuse Lights…

To violate the rule carries a punishment, normally in the form of a fine. “I understand that people want to take these actions as a type of protest,” explains María Teresa Saez, spokesperson for the Professional Association of Magistrates. “I think it is quite legitimate but has to assume the consequences and this will be implicit in such protest.”

Josep Casadellà was clear that he was doing an act of civil disobedience when he decided not to pay for passing a tollbooth on the road to Barcelona by Girona. Joseph says that “I’ve already paid too long; 43 years paying for some highways doesn’t match up, it cannot be and that’s that.” In he went by car with his son and heard on the radio some statements from the Minister of Development Ana Pastor who said they were going to bail out the highway deficit in Madrid with the income from the highways of Catalonia and elsewhere that were in surplus. Then he denied, but at this moment, he says, he would pass through the tollbooth, and said the now-famous phrase “no vull pagar” (“I don’t want to pay”). They recorded it, posted it on YouTube, and lit the fuse.

Over the following weekends, people imitated Josep and made the same statement. Thus, thousands of refusals to pay the tolls: Something previously unheard of. Although it wasn’t the first time that Josep called for disobedience: the previous year there had been a campaign on Facebook on  — the National Day of Catalonia — for people not to pay tolls. “And I did it myself,” he jokes. Why did it not work then and then yes one month later? “I think that it was the right time,” Josep says. In matters of civil disobedience there needs to be a fuse and a spark, but if there is no explosive there will be no bang. “It was a very particular time, with the crisis on one hand and on the other the media that published it… and all together it pulled the trigger.”

…and the Fuse Fizzles

We followed in Catalona: in different weekends during there have been some 50,000 refusals to pay tolls on the part of 25,000 people, according to the “no vull pagar” platform, and Albertis, the tollbooth operator, made an appeal to the government. Fines of 100 euros began to arrive and the protest deflated. “When I first did the ‘no vull pagar,’ I was conscious that I was breaking a rule, a decree that comes each year with fees to be paid. So I was aware that it was an act of civil disobedience that could result in repercussions against me. Now I don’t know if the people who later refused to pay the toll were also conscious of this,” explains Josep. Fines that, on the other hand, were not legal and that could be appealed since at that time it was considered a contactural infraction and it was the operator, Albertis, and not the Catalan Traffic Service that was responsible for reporting drivers who had not paid the toll. Furthermore, Josep says that so far he has not paid anything because he has been making appeals.

The “no vull pagar” campaign has had an impact, though not in the form that the promoters of the protest would have liked: In the general budget for , the government has changed the law to allow sanctioning, now indeed, of people who refuse to pay a toll. If to this we add the new court fees it is easy to understand the discouragement of even the promoter of the idea, who has opted not to use toll roads. Nevertheless, the campaign continues to brainstorm new demonstrations to maintain the protest. For now they will demand accountability for using the highway code to punish an act, failure to pay, that was not punishable at the time.

Nuanced Disobedience

We resumed the conversation with Martí Olivellas, who tells us that, 40 years after the campaign for conscientious objection [to military service], he is about to launch a new civil disobedience campaign called “A call to civil disobedience for civil rights and against the financial dictatorship.” According to Martí this concerns reviving a campaign made three years ago called “Pledge for fiscal transparency” that included not paying the Treasury and depositing the money in an ethical bank account, until the government could explain with transparency how it was spending the taxes. Now the campaign is resuming but in order to be huge they intend to make their deposit in the Government Depository, an administrative body of the Economic Ministry that is charged with the management and control of securities and deposits that have been made with the Civil Administration. Martí Olivellas says that “you’re not evading. What you say is that the day on which they [the government] have the transparency law, end corruption, and know how to manage our money, I’ll pay my taxes that I have retained in the Depository.” But until then, you are not failing to pay but are retaining the money in an account in the same agency, are we still talking about civil disobedience? “This is a very nuanced action of disobedience and is intended for the general public. But everyone can modulate the risk: for example sending that which you have to pay to the Treasury in an interest-free loan to a social entity that should have received money from the State but has not received it.” And do they think anything will happen next? “We hope so, next 16 February there is a gathering which will finish the outline. And then tax season begins. It is the right moment.” At that time we will see if society is willing, or not ready, to disobey.

Catalonia

Spanish cabinet member José Manuel García-Margallo acknowledged a rising tax resistance sentiment in Catalonia. “Increasingly, Catalan society is noticing that what is ‘sent to Spain’… is ‘sent to Europe’” — meaning that instead of the tax dollars going to provide services for Catalonia, they’re being used to pay for European creditor bailouts.

Catalan separatists are trying to keep Catalan taxes in Catalonia, and some have used tax resistance strategies — including paying their federal taxes directly to the Catalan local government.

Chile

Guillermo Durand Cornejo, president of the government-owned mining monopoly Codelco, and a legislative representative, called on Salteños (citizens of Salta, Chile) to refuse to pay a municipal tax, in the wake of property tax increases and new taxes in electricity and water bills.

“Until such time as the mayor gives a response to the people concerning the tax hike, I suggest that you do not pay this month’s municipal tax,” he said. “I call for civil disobedience.”

Cornejo says he views the thirty-day tax strike as a wake up call for the government, and suggests that strikers who restrict their strike to the single month will not be subject to government reprisals.

Italy

Italy’s government is responding to widespread tax evasion by doing spot checks of people who appear to be living large to see if they’ve paid their taxes.

The tactic has a name, redditometro, and it involves a detailed “lifestyle” audit that tips off tax authorities to noncompliance. If the police observe an Italian resident living the high life (for instance, by zooming around in an expensive sports car) they can stop the individual and demand their taxpayer identification numbers, regardless of whether any criminal offense has taken place. The information is conveyed to the tax authorities, the Agenzia delle Entrate, which subsequently audits the driver. On audit, revenue officials ask probing questions about how the taxpayer was able to afford the fancy wheels given their meager reported income.

Nowadays being seen driving a Ferrari isn’t so cool; it has become a glaring audit flag. Ditto for renting a weekend villa in the Tuscan hill country, or applying for membership at a Ligurian yacht club. And don’t even think about heli-skiing at Cortina. Other activities being monitored include shopping for high-end fashion items. So think twice before you hit the Gucci boutique.

Redditometro was approved by Parliament in , but wasn’t widely enforced until . Most Italians don’t like the practice. They find it intrusive. Piero Ostellino, an Italian news commentator, recently told the BBC: “I’m against the Redditometro not because I’m in favor of evading taxes, I don’t think tax collection should be done by trampling on individual liberties.” He then added, “I would like to live in a country where a cardinal can, every month, buy a pornographic magazine without having to explain this to the tax authorities. This is like the former East Germany.”

Greece

Tax resistance continues in Greece, where the government has been raising taxes and reducing government benefits and services.

Despite big tax hikes as part of austerity measures demanded by international lenders, tax revenues fell precipitously in , with the Greek Finance Ministry reporting a 16 percent decrease from , and a loss of 775 million euros, or $1.05 billion in one month.

The numbers could have been worse as the government gained revenues from doubled property taxes and big hikes in income taxes that have hit most Greeks except for tax cheats who continue to largely escape sacrifice or prosecution.

Direct tax revenues increased by about 9 to 10 percent in compared with a year earlier. Given the country’s devastating recession, which has created a record 26.8 percent unemployment and is in its sixth year, the only options left for the government is to collect from tax evaders and improve tax collections, although tax hikes have led to many more Greeks trying to hide their income, statistics showed.

The “Won’t Pay” tax resistance movement is still active. An Athens-area branch of the group is putting up 100,000 posters there to urge people to join an expanded tax strike in .

Meanwhile, the government won a court victory against the tollgate runners. The Greek Supreme Court ruled against Oropos mayor John Oikonomakou who had challenged his €200 fine for running the gate on the grounds that the toll and fine money was being siphoned off by foreign companies rather than being used for road maintenance and traffic safety.

Tollgate raids are continuing in spite of the ruling. Other court challenges are also in progress.

The government has recently also added a €5 tax to medical services, which the movement is urging people to refuse to pay, and offering their legal support to anyone denied service for such refusal.

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