The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

The innocent have nothing to fear

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"The innocent have nothing to fear"

This is the much-abused phrase used every time a new erosion of our civil liberties occurs or another draconian law is passed, supposedly to save us from the hundreds of thousands of paedophiles and terrorists lurking on every street corner.

Of course it’s a complete lie. What actually happens is the innocent live in perpetual fear of being wrongly accused, while the not-so-innocent are no more deterred by a stronger punishment than they were by a lesser one.

I was reflecting on this while trying to complete our Self-Assessment Tax Forms which had to be in by the end of January... or else!

There are millions of people up and down the country who fill in their tax returns every year, and not all of them are accountants. So in a bid to save a few more pennies we dispensed with allowing a professional to charge us several hundred quid for filling in a form on our behalf for the 2006/7 accounts.

For someone who is reasonably literate and numerate, it should have been fairly straightforward, and yet it turned into one of the most stressful, anxiety-attack filled processes of the past twelve months.

I have put it off, procrastinated, started, suddenly remembered hundreds of other things I needed to be doing, debated finding an accountant after all, wondered if it was worth skipping the country and contemplated whether it would be less painful to slit my own throat.

Having now completed my tax return, I have to admit it is not such a complicated document – no worse than, say, learning how to play monopoly. Mind you, like monopoly or other family games, if there’s someone in the room who already knows what they’re doing you can be up and running within minutes, but if no one knows and you have to learn solely by reading the instructions, you’ll still be scratching your head and arguing over the rules 3 weeks later. But where this analogy falls down is the consequences of getting it wrong are very different.

And that’s the crux of the matter.

Imagine there was a plank 3 feet wide and 12 feet long lying on the ground; I’m sure you could walk across without falling off with barely a second thought. However, if the plank was traversing a crevasse with a 300-foot drop, you might wonder whether you could do it at all. What would normally be a simple task now becomes one of the most frightening of your life.

Now we know that the government has all sorts of powers of detention and obscure laws to do whatever they want to us. Perhaps we have vague memories of someone once saying that tax evasion is still a hangable offence. Don’t the Inland Revenue have the authority to lock you away in a darkened cell and wire your genitals up to 40,000 volts?

Remember, they didn’t get Al Capone for being a vicious and brutal murdering mobster: they imprisoned him for tax fraud.

The fact that on the forms themselves the only potential punishment mentioned is a £100 fine if you fail to submit your Self-Assessment Tax by January 31st, seems irrelevant. The fear of getting it wrong is overwhelming.

Even without the threat of 40,000 volts to my nether regions, the idea that I might be investigated, have my computer confiscated and end up in court, just because I put a zero in the wrong place gives me the jitters. It doesn’t matter that I wouldn’t knowingly break the law; all it takes is someone’s suspicions for my life to be turned upside down.

Of course the real crooks and fraudsters know the systems and employ the right people to make sure they never get caught; it is your average person in the street who lives in fear.

What about Samina Malik who ended up in prison for writing dodgy poetry and visiting a few unsavoury websites? What about all those prisoners in Guantanamo Bay who after 4 years of detention were released without charge, trial or apology? What about Jean Charles de Menezes who was shot by police on the London Underground because he looked a bit foreign?

It’s always the innocent who live in fear when our civil liberties are eroded.

So if you start reading reports in the newspaper of "The Castle Douglas Two", or worse, we vanish off the face of the earth with all evidence of our existene mysteriously erased, then you’ll know Maggie and I must have slipped up on our disallowable expenses.

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26 comments

Carole said...

Taxes? Taxes? Ugghh. Now I have to add that to my growing list of things to do this month.

I will be watching your posts with careful scrutiny to make sure you are still writing them and not some neo-con who took you to a land far far way, never to be heard from again. If I suspect any governmental chicanery I will alert the...the...

Bye Kim.

karatemom said...

LOL..Having been self employed for many years I completely relate to a lot of your post. All the calculations and figuring out deductions etc .. I was very similar in I would lock myself in little room in the basement for the better part of 3 days and sift through all the receipts and forms until I emerged victorious.

We have to have ours done in April but usually begin in February.
This year however, will be my easiest year..
I am no longer self employed so I only have to buy the income tax software program for the computer and punch in the numbers and let the computer do all the calculations!!!!

( on the downside now that I am no longer self employed I really don't make as much either lol )

Jupiter's Girl said...

Excellent post, Kim. So funny and true.

I had to give up the task of doing our own taxes a few years ago. I seemed to make a mistake somewhere in the form, that changed everything and delayed our return by months, for several years in a row. It only caused more anxiety as I tried to figure out the "correction" form and do that right. I invariably had to call the toll free # on the form to get help filling that out.

So, hat's off for getting that out of the way. Release the guilt.

savannah said...

i plead the Fifth on this one, sugar.

(just in case THEY read your blog)

Freakazojd said...

I HATE doing taxes. I am extremely fortunate in that my mother-in-law LOVES doing taxes. (Not to digress, but I think she may be ill. Is there such a thing as "taxitis"?) The result is that I haven't done my own taxes for years. That will have to change at some point, but I'm sure enjoying it now! :)
Good luck...I feel for you, I really do!

Oblivion Seeker said...

When I lived in the UK I was used to PAYE, with my tax automatically coming ot of my pay each month... over here that option does not exist, and my tax forms for last year just arrived too. Really not looking forward to it!

Kim Ayres said...

Carole - remember, citizen, your government has your interests at heart. Listen to us. Listen to us. Listen to us...

KarateMom - if you have half an idea how to use spreadsheets on your computer, it's considerably cheaper than buying tax software.

Jupiter's Girl - they have simpler versions here if you earned less than £15K or more than £15 million...

Savannah - there is no Fifth in this counry. In fact, remaining silent is allowed to be seen as hiing a guilty secret - remember, the innocent have nothing to fear...

Freakazojd - I think Taxitis is a condition created from driving about in too many taxis

Oblivion Seeker - just down several pints before you start - it'll be a piece of piss (now that I look at it, I don't think I've ever actually written that expression down before)

Mary Witzl said...

Ooh, my sympathies, and thanks for reminding me!

God, I hate doing my taxes! I've been filing an American return for all the time I've lived abroad, and in Japan, we had to file a Japanese return too, and that job fell to me. I felt so sorry for the fellow down at the City Hall who I used to consult: he assumed it was the language that threw me, but he soon learned it was the math. All I have to do is see numbers and my heart goes cold. Every year when tax time rolled around, I felt like hibernating.

CactusFreek said...

I've never lodged a tax return in my life. My husband has always just added my details in the "Spouse" section.
Late last year i got a letter in the mail from the tax department, demanding i lodge tax returns for the past 6 years within a month or get fined $10.000. Well... I shat myself!
In that time i've had bank accounts opened and closed, A casual job where the business had closed down and the owner was who-knew-where....oh my goodness, so many road blocks!
But we did it. I haven't heard back from the tax office so hopefully it was all ok. But geez, i hope that never happens again, and i'lllodge my own return from now on!

Sarah said...

ech.. i feel your pain. a two page tax form here (US) required 17 pages of instruction..

make any sense?

oh and i always ef up on the EZ forms from the state.. there is nothing easy about them, they are arse backwards!

Brave Astronaut said...

Ah, taxes. Our founding fathers idea of a cruel joke on their descendants.

For many years, I was an "EZ" form guy. Then I took a job where they did not take out taxes and I had to file quarterly taxes to save myself from a $20K tax bill at the end of the year.

Now I own a house and I might actually start seeing a refund again. But I won't know that until my accountant finishes with my taxes.

I don't do my own anymore. It's not worth the stress.

Anna van Schurman said...

In 15 years of living in California, I never once got the tax form correct. You know what they did? They corrected it and sent me the refund. I'm not going to go messing with the Feds, but I think if you screw up, they can handle it.

Tom said...

I remember being on the phone one afternoon a few years ago *begging* a credit card company not to raise my interest rate to 29.5% from 7.5% for being late by a few days. Not quite Guantanamo Bay, but my prison nonetheless.

Archivalist said...

Kim, there is no 'Fifth' in this country any more, except on paper. And the liquor stores.

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

Oooh, I like that crevasse analogy.

I have been trying to read this for days now but kept getting interrupted by one thing or another.

My husband usually does our taxes while I stand beside him and soothe his outraged snorts away. It's a difficult week in the house, that one. Even the girls seem hushed.

Tom said...

I'm diggin' the new look here Kim; very stylish and slick. Makes me want to tread lightly though, so I don't slip on the waxed floor. :)

Kim Ayres said...

Mary - filling in Japanese forms? I shudder to think...

Cactusfreek - yup, I think I'd need to change my underwear after a demand like that

Sarah - it's true that the instruction leaflets can be longer than the returns!

Brave Astronaut - when I was running my web design business, I was VAT registered, so had to submit VAT returns every 3 months. this meant I had to keep on top of the figures. Unfortunately, now I back to annual returns it all has a habit of building up to the point of panic

Anna - well we're always told the Californians are more laid back than the rest of the world (apart from the Dutch, perhaps)

Tom - the problem with credit card companies is the only people on the other end of the phone are people who hate their job and just want to get home at the end of the day with as little hassle as possible - and it's easier to say no that go out of their way to help you.

Archivalist - No Fifth? But that's all we know about the American Constitution - you can carry firearms and not answer anyone's questions...

Sam - massage his shoulders, make him a strong hot chocolate with extra marshmallows and cream and tell him how manly he is and how much you appreciate his looking after his family in this way

Tom - I'll be handing out rugs later to shoot across the floor on

The Birdwatcher said...

I did mine at the last minute as usual. I had been telling HMCR for the last two years that I did not need to do one anymore as all my income was collected via PAYE. They refused to listen and insisted that I filled one in SO I did. And I managed to do it online. I was dead pleased with myself. On Friday 1 February they sent me a letter saying that they had reviewed my files and agreed that I no longer needed to do one! Perhaps they have a sense of humour?

Archivalist said...

It's the Second Amendment (GUNS!) ueber alles now. Free speech? Feh. No self-incrimination? Hey, like you said: if you're innocent, you have nothing to fear. Former Attorney General Ed Meese put it best: "Police do not arrest innocent people."

Kim Ayres said...

Birdwatcher - it's the online thing - if the computer tells them it's ok, it must be

Archivalist - phew, that's a relief...

PI said...

Taxes and insurance are beyond me and I become a total blonde. So far - with two husbands who are good at that sort of thing I've got away with it. Would they send an elderly lady to prison?

CamSavWin said...

I'm getting audited. Sheesh. This'll mean lawyers, I'm sure. Sheesh, again.

I feel about taxes the same way I do when a police car is behind me in traffic:

I have to keep reminding myself I'm not guilty of anything.

Amazing that you can feel guilty even when you're not? This is what "The innocent have nothing to fear" leads us to.

Styopa Likhodeev said...

There are innocent people?

I had a similar experience here. Got my taxes in just in the nick of time.
Why did I wait until the last minute?
Because I'm an idiot, that's why!

Kim Ayres said...

Pat - just watch a few episodes of "Bad Girls" and I'm sure you'd have the screws wrapped round your finger in no time

Camsavwin - welcome to my ramblings and thank you for taking the time to comment.

I know what you mean about the police - my foot automatically comes off the accelerator the moment I spot a police car, even if I'm already 10mph under the speed limit

Justin - Your name changes are increasing in frequency

Guyana-Gyal said...

"...the innocent live in perpetual fear of being wrongly accused..."

This says it for me!

One little zero in the wrong place...leaving out a set of figures by mistake...Oh, the horror, the fear!

It's awful.

Kim Ayres said...

Guyana-Gyal - every year I contemplate skipping the country, just to avoid filling in the forms...

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