I have been grappling with my tax situation for months, and occasionally sharing my pain and frustration via facebook, so I thought I would chart the horrific atrocities of both HMRC and my irritating employer in full here so that you can all feel my pain and share the burden of horror from the beginning.
I’ll be having tax-related nightmares for weeks, and may also require therapy at some point. And if it’s a choice between death or taxes right now, then point me to the nearest cliff…
It all started in the middle of last year….
2nd September 2015
You know that thing where you work overseas for almost 2 years, and a month before you come home your employer realises you should have been registered as non-tax resident in order to reclaim all your tax? So you fill in all the forms, discover you have to also do a tax return and start the excruciating process of registering online for a self-assessment form.
Then you get stuck, cos you need a special number to register online, but you can’t get one, as it has to be posted to you, and they think you still live overseas and so they keep posting things to Iraq and the Philippines.
You keep calling them to tell them you’ve moved back home, and they tell you that you’ll need to do a tax return, but they can’t seem to fix your address glitch on their system and of course they can’t possibly just give you the damn reference number over the phone …. And after spending more than an hour on hold on three separate numbers before they refer you back to the first number you called, you just start to weep while bashing your head repeatedly against the desk.
One thing you learn to accept as an aid worker is that you are never going to have a small, or especially environmentally-friendly carbon footprint. There are just too many flights involved! Not only do I travel to far-flung and exotic places for work, and then generally want to take holidays around the general area of wherever you happen to be, but I also have family in the UK and Australia that I try to visit once in a while, and a lot of friends having fabulous destination weddings at the moment in places like Canada and France! I think 2015 might turn out to be a record-breaking year for me in terms of flights and travel, as I look back at everywhere I have been this year, and am simultaneously busy planning both work trips and holidays for the coming months. I’ve decided to map it out compared to last year, which was also quite travel-heavy….
2014: I can’t remember how many internal flights I did in the Philippines, but if I had to guess I’d say
I believe I mentioned in my previous post that I was roped into hosting/anchoring a live talkshow here in Tacloban covering the Haiyan Candlelight Memorial.
I found out on Wednesday I was doing it, and so had very little time to practice for the 5-hour long live event on Saturday!
In spite of the nerves and jitters, we got there in the end, and it was actually really fun! During the rehearsals I had a large rat crawling across the beam in my eyeline, and I got somewhat frustrated by not having enough clear/straight answers to my questions. The producer was a lovely guy, but he has a tendency to sermonise everything and talk in riddles, which is not helpful when you have limited time… I would ask things like “What order will the interviews and reports be in? Can I have a schedule in advance so I know what’s happening before I actually go live on-air?” and he would talk for 30 mins about humanity’s finest hour…. That was very frustrating! He also kept misunderstanding my frustration as nerves, and when I asked him to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do (like sit up, speak loudly, don’t turn your head etc) he asked me if I knew the difference between speaking and talking. I said no, not really, cos they’re synonyms, and he started singing “The Sound of Silence” to me. It was excruciating.
So as a result of that, right up to when we went live on-air, I had no idea what was happening next – there was no schedule to follow, it was more like them just waving bits of paper at me from behind a camera saying things like “Joe on the line” or “Go to Commercial” or “More energy!” Continue reading →
We are building up to the 1-year anniversary of Super-Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Haiyan), so all hands on deck, and a lot of activities going on, candlelight marches, memorial services, exhibitions, and so on.
Everyone is busy putting together summaries of our work in the last year, numbers of beneficiaries reached and support given, and advocacy messages for the coming year.
A few quick figures for you. My organisation has, in the last year, provided support to over 800,000 people, including:
Provided clean water, sanitation, and hygiene kits to over 500,000 people
Provided cash and income support to over 530,000 people
Distributed non-food items such as mosquito nets, tarpaulins, and mother and newborn kits to over 430,000 people
Supported the recovery of over 200 small businesses and micro-enterprises
Distributed over 8,000 sacks of rice seeds to support farmers
and many many more things as well. We’ve given out boats and cleared loads of agricultural land as well, but I don’t have the numbers handy…. Continue reading →
This weekend I popped down to Ormoc to visit a couple of friends, and try to say goodbye to as many people as possible before I leave in a couple of weeks’ time. We hired a multicab (mini van/bus type thing) … Continue reading →
Wow, after over 11 months here, I suddenly only have 3 weeks to go!
It seems to have snuck up on me somehow, and now that it’s looming I’ve realised how much I have to do!
In addition to all of the handover of the work here, and supporting the teams through what is turning out to be a tough transition, there are a million and one other things to do in the next three weeks…
As I don’t know how long I’ll be at home for, I need to start planning to see my family and friends, as there is never enough time to see everyone, and I won’t have time to get around the UK much. If I don’t start organising things in advance, people will be busy and before you know it I might be off somewhere else!
Then there is all the life admin that builds up and needs attending to, like Dr’s appointments, renewing prescriptions, seeing the dentist (and getting my teeth cleaned) and the optician (getting new glasses), taking the cats to the vet for their check-ups and vaccinations, and so on.
Oh, and at some point I have to find another job too!
Last week was a real rollercoaster for me. I had some serious ups and downs.
There was the usual internal bickering and politics and bureaucracy that makes me want to tear my hair out several times a week. Plus a bit of a bollocking which I feel was slightly undeserved, so that never puts one in a good mood.
Then we had an unexpected donor visit – we found out at 4pm on Wednesday that they were coming at 9am the next morning, so we had to scramble to come up with some activities we could take them around and see. Luckily we pulled it all together (on account of having such an awesome team) and they absolutely loved it, so we ended the day on a massive high.
However, at 5pm on Friday, my lovely colleague P made my day – no, he made my week. Continue reading →
In non-work related news, I recently conquered my fear of the ocean (at least partially), which I am extremely proud of!
I went on a mini-break with some colleagues to Southern Leyte for a long weekend, which was really nice. We stayed in a fantastic hotel called Sogod Bay Scuba Resort, which frankly I couldn’t speak more highly of. It was very reasonably priced, the place was lovely, the food was delicious and the staff couldn’t have been nicer. Sorry for the shameless plug, but it was such a fabulous place.
Anyhoo, I was there with a group of colleagues from Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the UK. Out of 11 of us, only 4 of us could swim, yet we headed out on a boat trip to do some snorkelling, and I was blown away by how brave my colleagues are! I’m already fairly scared of the ocean, what with all the sharks and jellyfish, and I consider myself a strong swimmer. However these guys chucked on a lifejacket, a snorkel and a pair of flippers and happily piled into the ocean to check out all the fish. Continue reading →
Well now, here I am, coming up to 11 months here in the Philippines, and a lot has changed.
Tacloban is a very different city, with most shops up and running again (with the noticeable exception of McDonalds, whose refurbished grand opening is still being awaited with baited breath here in our bustling office….) 🙂
Organisations and Government officials alike are starting to plan and prepare for the 1-year on anniversary – a useful milestone to reflect on the fantastic achievements of the many many NGOs, Government staff, and others, while also taking stock of the long, long road to recovery ahead. Continue reading →
Note: I wrote this one a few months ago but forgot to post it, so some of the dates may not make sense…
A fascinating conversation with some colleagues yesterday raised the question of whether we are looking at recovery, reconstruction and resilience from completely the wrong perspective.
What if “building back better” (the buzzphrase being bandied about over here at the moment) isn’t going to work?
Don’t get me wrong, the concept of building back better is a good one. In practice it means helping communities to rebuild their houses more safely, re-designing wooden and bamboo houses to make them stronger and more resilient to typhoons. Designing roofs that have 4 sides instead of 2, having smaller roof overhangs that will produce less wind-resistance and lift, using hurricane straps to hold down corrugated iron sheets on the roof, and using concrete and hollow-blocks to stabilise the base of the core structure.
All of which are sound and logical ways to improve people’s lives, and help make them, and their houses, more resilient to the next typhoon.
But, with climate changes that are bringing us ever bigger and stronger storms, floods, and other natural disasters, will “building back better” ever be enough? Continue reading →