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Cheers - AE

Friday, 16 January 2009

You've moved abroad - here's your NI bill

Last year I completed my last tax return for HM Revenue and Customs and, after a couple of international phone calls explaining that I was no longer a UK resident and had zero plans to return, put a note on it somewhere explaining that I was gone for good and expected to be thoroughly milked by the Australian Tax Office in future and wasn't really up for paying tax in Britain as well. I think there was a form to be posted back as well since I'm sure there was one particular hoop to jump through which couldn't be done online. I also included my address here in Oz in case they wanted to check my return or get proof that I'd left the UK. Months went by and I heard nothing, so I assumed that it was all sorted. Until yesterday when a bill for about $200 (sorry, no pound sign) of NI contributions landed on the mat. The silly bastards had clearly put my address in the system so the NI Contributions Office knew where to send it, but after another international call it turned out that they hadn't actually mentioned that I'd emigrated. I can't blame the NI people for not being mind readers, and since there are plenty of ex-pats who do keep paying NI it's not an unreasonable assumption that I would be as well. Actually it is an unreasonable assumption and a letter/email asking me to clarify it would have been a good move, but it's probably not realistic to hope for anything so sensible.

Although the lady I spoke to in the NI Contributions Office was both (a) intelligent enough to understand the situation instantly (b) knowledgeable enough to know how to deal with it and (c) good humoured enough not to mind that I said I'd rather barbecue myself than go back to the UK, the whole one-hand-doesn't-know-what-the-fuck-the-other-is-doing experience does strike me as sadly typical of things in the UK. On the plus side she told me that I'd overpaid slightly so after some more form filling I should be due a small rebate, perhaps enough for a slab of beer I'd guess. I'll be raising one to the nameless NI lady as being the first tax/NI person I've spoken to in nearly two decades of work in the UK who really had their shit together. For the rest... well I'm going to need the toilet again before the evening is out.
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