Saturday, 22 September 2012

Customer Service, Red-Tape, & Taxes

So, it's been a while since my last (first) post....I guess I could blame lots of things, but mainly the art of getting settled - again - trying to make a new home feel like home, the added stress of a new job, training for said job etc would be the main culprits, so yeah....lots of things will be blamed.

First of all, we are slowly settling, the commute to work has been negotiated (sleeping on the train have become a fine, calculated art, as has waking up on time :-P...), the girls have started in the creche, and we've even managed to hit the beach a couple of times, despite living a few hundred yards from it. The weather has been, well, "Scorchio", and rain dances don't work.

The most stressful part of moving back to Spain has to be, above all else, the sea of Red Tape. A big warning to anyone planning on moving out, be prepared, be very very prepared, you'll drown in a sea of it ....and even that won't help. Be prepared to spend lots of time in queues, making phone calls, being told one thing by one person, something else by a colleague of theirs in the same department, and something entirely different again by someone else in the same building.

Case in point, Jany and I had lived here before, we had our own NIE's (SOFI number in Holland, PPS number in Ireland), had our own Social Security numbers("SS" going forward, not to be confused with soldiers wearing Black Uniforms, Jackboots, and goosestepping), all we needed to do was get the girls added to our existing SS numbers and we could get the local medical cards. These are, needless to say, very important, mainly because it means that you get free medical care (If only in Catalunya). Unlike Ireland, however, you have to be working to qualify for one, as your SS contributions go towards any medical care you might require...and yes, that means that if you're not working, basically, don't get sick.

Anyways, back to getting the girls written in. Piece of cake, or at least it should be, I mean we've our details done from before, and the girls are two and a half and one and a half years old, seriously, to quote Clarkson, J., How hard can it be? what could they possibly need....?

See, I'm no expert on Spanish Beaurocracy, and what I'll say next might sound like I'm being unnecessarily critical about what is essentially an outdated system. It feels, quite often, that the Right hand doesn't know what the Left hand is scratching, and that both hands are unable to find their arse witha Sat Nav and a seeing eye dog. It might be down to the fact that during the Boom years every man and his dog was  given a job, especially in the civil service, and with the (inevitable) cutbacks brought in with austerity measures, people are overworked and understaffed. They also manage to give off an air of "why are you bothering me with this? I'll get it done when I feel like it", not an unusual feeling to be left with by anything remotely or directly related to "Customer Service", essentially the job description of these public servants. The Customer Service "problem" here - i.e. in Spanish Companies, is that agents are often not given any training, are thrown in at the deep-end, are paid SFA - the minimum wage here in Spain is just over 600 Euros- and are afraid of getting any negative feedback for fear of getting fired. This has led to a complete unwillingness to help, or a habit of redirecting to other departments, and is obviously very very frustrating....

I'll elaborate.

Firstly, the CatSalut Cards. In order to get one, you have to be registered into the Census Roll (Called the Empadronamiento) in your local Town Hall, cos you need this to be able to apply for one. Buuut, I'd just started the four weeks training course at my new job and couldn't go. So we pass by the Town Hall on a Saturday morning. "'scuse me, can my wife register me as I won't be able to make it?"; "sure, just give her a signed letter granting authorization to get you registered". Of course, come Monday, "Sorry, can't do it as you're foreigners, and you both need to be here" (As someone here once opined, Franco never died, he just got a Job in the Ayuntamiento, or Town Hall in Malgrat), down to the local medical Centre (CAP), "CatSalut card, yes, you'll have to go to Calella (Three stops on the train) and get the girls registered on your Social Security numbers", show up in Calella..."yeah, they need NIE's...", "ah for f.......".

So, Shayne has to take an hour or two off work the next day to get signed in the Town Hall. Then he has to take another couple of hours off work later on in the week to get the girls NIE's in MatarĂ³, half an hour by train. Show up in MatarĂ³, bit of a queue, but "Comunitarios" and people with appointments can skip it, walk in, explain what I need, "Do you have the CatSalut card?", "What?, no, I need this before I can get it for them", "Oh, right, they might only give you a provisional NIE", "Come again?", "The girls might only get a Provisional one, you'll then be able to get the cards, then you'll be able to get a permanent NIE (Exactly the same number, only the form is green, not yellow). But because of their ages, they might just decide to give them a permanent one. You can pick them up in a week"

Brilliant, just feckin'brilliant. More time off, not great when you've just started a job, and they're worried about your commute affecting your job, but at least they were understanding. So fast forward a week later, Shayne's picked up the NIE's (Permanent ones!! Punch the air, "You beauty!!"- or words to that effect), now to get the SS aspect over and done with. Ring ring, "Can our Au Pair go on our behalf if we give her authorization?", "Sure, but the girls Birth Certs need to be translated, actually hang on I'll DOUBLE CHECK.........yeah definitely need to be translated"...double "ah for f......"
See, they need to be translated by an official translator from the Irish Consulate in Barcelona, more time off work, more stress, more expense. So Jany decides to call the SS Office next to her workplace..."Sure, just bring in the documents....Translated? No, no need"...

All together now "AH FOR F.......!!!!!"

The other reason we wanted the Social Security thing sorted out quickly is the Income Tax rate. Part of Rajoy's austerity measures were to increase Income Tax to 24.% on roughly the first 17,000 Euro earned, (plus your six percent SS Contributions). But this could be halved if you could show that you had lived in Spain for at least six months leading up to you starting the job, or if you could prove that you had worked for at least six months - which I blatantly had, after spending over seven years there previously. This tax rate is, in its own way, similar to the Emergency Tax system in Ireland and the UK.

In order to prove that I had worked here before, albeit three years ago, I needed something called a Vida Laboral, literally your personal History of Employment in the state. In order to get this I was first told that I needed only to register in the Town Hall, and then I could apply to the Social Security Office for the relevant documentation. So thats done, I do that, email reply two days later "The Address we have on file does not match the Address that you want the document sent to, please go to your local Office and change your details...". So, just like those old Dungeons & Dragons books (People over a certain age will understand this) please scroll up three paragraphs to see how easy it is to get something like this done. Again, fast forward a five weeks, its all done and its arrived in the post. So finally, I can get that sorted out. I'm one of the lucky ones...

I say this because a colleague of mine has been living and working here since October of 2011. He is now currently trying to get his Vida Laboral, or alternatively, in the case of having lived here for at least six months, prove that he has been a resident by getting a form saying he has his Residencia Fiscal. This has been complicated by the fact that he hadn registered at his first address (Empadronamiento) as it was an employee flat provided by his first job. He has therefore been told that he can't get the tax break as he only recently registered at his new address, even though he can prove that he was working here through his payslips and contract, but apparently that's not good enough. Although it might seem slightly confusing, he should be able to get his Vida Laboral because he has been making Social Security contributions but again, right hand, left hand, sat nav etc.

Taxes are, at the moment, a bit of a contentious issue in Catalunya, not least because of the recent meeting between Mariano Rajoy (Spanish PM) and Artur Mas (Catalan President), where Mas proposed a change in the way taxes are collected from the region and how the Generalitat (Catalan Government) benefits from them. Currently, the Spanish Government collects the taxes from all the autonomous regions in Spain, and then share out some of the income between them. This has caused resentment here as it has resulted in the residents of Catalunya paying 8% more tax than the Generalitat is receiving, with some claiming the figure to be as high as 16 Billion Euros being lost to other regions and the Central Government.  Mas proposed that the Tax be collected by the Generalitat, who could then send on a percentage to Madrid, but this was rejected outright by Rajoy (Not surprising when you consider how much money Madrid gets from a region that produces 20% of Spains Economic output). There is talk of a Referendum about Independence being on the cards, as a poll recently suggested that the figure of Catalans favouring this course of action is now well over 50%. How well that would go down with the Central Government is....well....let's cross that bridge when we come to it....

In no way do I want to come across as someone who is unhappy here, if anything, I love Spain/Catalunya, it's culture (apart from quite possibly "la Sardana" ;-P) it's food, the weather, and the lifestyle. I just feel that certain things in certain areas could be improved upon considerably and remove a lot of stress from a lot of peoples lives.

Rant over.........