Better times are coming


It’s been a rugged few years, and through that time I’ve spent a lot of effort fending off organisations wanting to get money out of me. Being broke and homeless does little for your savings, and the small debts I entered that circumstance with became much greater as time went by. Many of said organisations were reasonable when I came to explain my situation. All of them have provisions for people such as I was then, but not all of them attend to them as honestly as they should.

It was very much a juggling act looking either to appease, rebut or inform the variety of collection agencies on my tail. At the peak of this, I was getting a call every day, and often multiple calls through the day. I became inured to the calls, though they never stopped being annoying. There were occasions when I would bite back aggressively. That’s my nature, to be defiantly independent, but it was lent wings on occasion by some of the behaviours I had to put up with, which ranged from the rank incompetent to the personal and nasty. It never touched me, and in fact, there were many times I would laugh in their face. I enjoyed taking them on, enjoyed ripping their prepared scripts into shreds and tearing holes in their arguments. It might seem a small thing, but it was one way of asserting my individuality in the face of monolithic indifference.

Throughout this period, there were what I came to think as reasonable organisations, and I was happy to work with them towards a resolution. They were the organisations who recognised my situation and gave it due gravity. With those, I was able to defer my debt to a later time by claiming a hardship provision.

There was one organisation particularly unreasonable. They had bought the debt from the primary creditor and despite evidence provided refused any consideration of hardship, or indeed financial reality. They were incessant and their practices dodgy. They would call up to 3-4 times a day, though mostly I wouldn’t answer. The debt which had been stabilised for years at a moderate level suddenly went up as they added fees and charges as well as interest. They listened to none of my arguments and in the end, set a server on my tail. It was only by chance I discovered this – they went to the wrong address (a measure of their incompetence, as I had provided an updated address several times previously). As soon as I cottoned onto to this, the seething anger became fury.

The modus operandi of many of these places is to bully and intimidate. They are nasty and unscrupulous. I’m sure often-times that’s an effective tactic. That’s not my caper, to be bullied, just the opposite. Enough was enough, and so I contacted the ombudsman and with their assistance was able to hold off on the summons.

From there, I went on the offensive, claiming unscrupulous behaviour of the collection agency in direct contravention of the law. Over a period of months, we went backwards and forwards, leading ultimately to the transcripts of the chats being supplied to me. Much of it was redacted. When I demanded the full transcript, they went quiet. In the meantime, the ombudsman had asked me for what I considered a satisfactory settlement.

Fast forward a year, and out of the blue, an email is received by the ombudsman. They’re following up on the case and would be in touch. I was wary of this, uncertain of how it would play out and wondering if it would be better if sleeping dogs lie – but I let it go ahead. That was about a month ago.

Yesterday I got a call from the ombudsman. They had received a settlement offer from the company in my favour. They offered to waive all my debt (which had more than doubled), to stop all legal action, remove any reference to this from my credit record, and finally to provide me with a $4,000 cash settlement.

I was surprised. To say the least. And delighted. It’s up to me to accept it, which likely I will. I don’t want to exploit the situation, though it’s likely I could squeeze more out of them. I want to act with honour, and the dollars, welcome as they are, are secondary to the principle.

I don’t know if you can understand, but this feels like a vindication. I made reference last night on Facebook about how it pays off sometimes being a stubborn prick. I’m not sure I could have done anything different to what I did – it’s just not in my nature to submit. I’m proud nonetheless because I’ve held a faceless, arrogant organisation to account when many would have bowed down before it.

There is great symbolism in this for me. Those times were mighty tough and seemed to go on forever. It would have been easy to give up. The important thing is that I didn’t. I’ve endured a lot, but I’m coming out of it, touch wood, and it actually feels like this might be a harbinger of better times, touch wood. When I chose to stand fast on that day, it was still very hard, and I had little and every day was a challenge. Looking back it was pretty bleak, as had been the years preceding it. I stood firm then though and held the line throughout and then the day came when that tenacity was rewarded in better times, with the promise of more to come. It has been a journey, from hardship to hope. I have survived. I am here. My belief in my self and a better future has paid off.

Nothing is certain. Nothing’s about to fall in my lap. I’ve survived the worst, though, and my time is coming.

Dealing with it


Anyone who’s read this site for any period knows that I’ve had challenges. They’re not as great now as they once were, but they remain significant. I do my best managing them, but at the very best I can do no better – currently – than fight out a draw. I don’t go on about the specifics here much because, well, I don’t like to dwell on it too much, and because I feel I’m grizzling. I’m not. It is what it is, but it bears recording if this is to be any kind of true record.

I’ve had my wins over the journey. For years the ATO were after many thousands of dollars from me – over $40K. We battled by lengthy email, over the phone, and in court. I managed a stay of execution a couple of times, and at best battled them to a stalemate. The last real correspondence I had from there was basically along the lines of ok, you owe us, but we won’t chase you for the debt. It was an acknowledgement of sorts of my circumstances. Where it stands now I’m not sure, but I’m breathing easier and I’m getting (modest) tax returns.

There was another mob claiming a debt from years ago. I disputed it – I was with another provider – and challenged them to put up or shut up. If I owe the money then prove it, and they’ve since gone quiet.

Then there was a very aggressive collection agency who tried to intimidate me into coughing up. That’s their modus operandi, but I don’t intimidate. I gave as good as I got. When they tried to serve a summons on me I went to the ombudsman. The notice was withdrawn. I have since challenged them through the ombudsman on a number of points – basically they did things they’re not supposed to do. I’m sure they’re the things they try on everyone, relying on people to submit out of fear and ignorance. I’m not sure the case is yet closed, but the ball is in their court and it’s 3 months since they responded.

They’re the (perhaps temporary) wins.

There remain serious obstacles. The level of debt I carry is still pretty substantial. Fortunately some of my creditors are more reasonable and have backed off in recognition of my circumstances. They won’t forever.

I owe money to friends also, and nothing weighs on me more heavily than that. My first priority is to repay them, and I must do that if I am to feel any peace.

Then there are more practical, current issues.

I got a robodebt call from Centrelink last week for payments dating back nearly 3 years. I’m obliged to prove to them why I don’t owe them, which is near impossible given the time elapsed. The whole think is shonky, and the episode reflects very badly on an Australian government who should be serving its people.

Then there’s my car rego. I was invoiced and paid it at the concession rate last May. Turns out Centrelink told VicRoads I wasn’t entitled to the concession and so VicRoads suspended my registration because it was short paid. This was back in August.

Problem is they never advised me of this. And when in March I checked my rego renewal date online everything appeared normal. In April, however, I received a notice from VicRoads stating I wouldn’t be receiving a renewal notice because of the short payment.

Naturally I called them immediately for an explanation, then requested an investigation of the circumstances (which has since disappeared). Bottom line was that if I wanted to drive my car I had to pay last year’s shortfall ($465 – I’d been driving unregistered without knowing it), plus this year’s renewal amount ($787). I earn barely enough just to get by week to week, and certainly not enough to accumulate the funds to pay all of this. In other words, without a windfall, it’s impossible. To complicate it further if I don’t pay by August 1 then my car becomes de-registered.

In a way it’s academic. My car badly needs a service and has oil pressure issues which make driving inadvisable.

There are sundry other issues and mounting hills I don’t want to think about, not to mention the penalties I had a community legal service mismanage on my behalf.

You understand why I don’t like thinking about these things, let alone writing of them. It’s just so bleak and it seems sometimes I’m in a hole I can never get out of. It’s easier to push it to one side and just get on with things, trusting that I can make it work. Just deal with it – but that means deals I have to make.

 

Moving week


It’s been a significant week. Not so much in what has happened, more so in terms of what the future may hold.

There’s a lot goes on in my life. It’s pretty dull, but it’s pretty busy to. There are constant and often insistent demands upon me. There are regular difficulties and the occasional controversy. Most of it relates to stuff long gone, but not all of it. I don’t bother to record much of that here, if any. It’s tedious, and no-one wants to read about it.

Unfortunately I have to deal with it. No getting away from that. The phone calls come in and I respond as I see fit. Sometimes that’s conciliatory and diplomatic. Sometimes it’s scathing. Much of it depends on who is contacting me, and how they conduct themselves. I rank them you see. If you’re reasonable with me then I’ll be reasonable with you. If you’re rude or high-handed you get the full force of H’s wit. Once upon a time I’d have been intimidated by it. Not any more. I give as good as, and often better than I get.

There are letters too. Sometimes they sit unopened on my console for weeks. I know what’s in them, I just don’t want to read about it. Eventually I have to deal with them too. In the end I’m pretty diligent. Nothing slips by. Every opportunity is exploited. Just this week I’ve written another letter appealing a situation and complaining about the process, following up on a phone call. (On a side note, it’s shocking how bureaucratic, inefficient and corrupt so many agencies are).

I’ve survived like that for years, but it’s not much fun, and it’s not much better than survival. You do adjust to it though.

Today, in the space of about 30 minutes two very important things occurred.

The first was that a courier delivered a contract for me to sign. It was belated confirmation of a job I will commence in late January. Thirty minutes later the ATO called me. They asked a few questions then told me they would not be approving my request for tax relief. No surprises there, but disappointing all the same.

One of the questions they asked me is why I hadn’t declared myself bankrupt before now? That’s a very easy question to ask now, in hindsight, but at the time when I might have considered that I believed that I would soon be clear of my situation. I had hope and belief. Two rears plus later it’s clear it was misplaced.

It would have been so much easier had I declared myself bankrupt then. I wouldn’t have had to deal with much of this stress, and none of the constant demands on me. I would have slept a lot easier all round. And it would be over now, done and dusted, a clean slate to take into the new year.

I didn’t because I thought things would get better. And I didn’t it because I didn’t want to be a bankrupt. I didn’t want to shirk my responsibilities by some legal loophole. And I was proud. That may sound silly, but it counts for something. And I didn’t do it because of the technical difficulties it would present – unable to operate a business except under my own name, the potential difficulty in getting somewhere to live, etc.

Today I’ve decided I’ll do it. I don’t know if I have much choice, but it feels right regardless. I’ve fought hard. I’ve tried to do the ‘right thing’. I’ve got to move on though.

So, new job and bankrupt, but that’s not the end of it.

I’ve had enough calls this week to believe that next year will be better. It could be an illusion, but suddenly there appears some interest for someone with my skills. I doubt anything will come of the opportunities presented to me this week, but it gives me hope for next year. I need not be stuck in customer service forever.

There was a last thing. Early in the week I decided to look up something online. I’ve had a diagnosed condition for about 10 years. I’m used to it, and it rates no more than an inconvenience most days. Lately it’s troubled me a little more so impatient I decided to see if there have been any recent advances in the treatment of it. To my surprise I found information that troubled me.

I had no real awareness that my condition has a reasonable mortality rate. As I read further it became more confusing, but also more worrying.

The trouble is I feel pretty fit. I look pretty fit. I mean, the last thing in the world I would think is that I might have an illness that could kill me. And I still don’t believe that.

That’s easy to think now of course. I’m spritely. Still youthful, and beyond my years. This was a wake up call though. It can change. And besides telling myself to have a good chat to my doctor about it next time I very quickly began the exercises for my condition I do so rarely.

I don’t want readers to get the wrong idea. I don’t really know what to expect – it’s very vague and contradictory. I don’t expect to die soon, or indeed not for a long time. I’ve set myself 90 years, and nothing’s changed. It’s a reminder though not to take things for granted.

True context


Ok, I hate doing this. For a start, I’m meant to be anonymous, right?

Secondly, I’m a lone wolf eh? Proud, and proudly old-school, reluctant to admit to weakness or ask for help. Right?

Thirdly, well it’s fucking self-indulgent. It’s all about me in the worst possible way. I don’t do that either.

And yet here I am. Doing it. Exposing my face to the world. Not just asking for help, but exposing my life, my frailties, to the world to see. And guess what, it may be slick and modern, but what I’m doing is pretty well beg:

https://www.gofundme.com/helpmefinishmybook

Why am I doing this? Well, it’s pretty self-evident. I can’t survive without outside help, divine intervention, or possibly both. As an atheist I can’t count on divine intervention, so I’m asking the world for help.

It’s been quite a journey. It used to be that I wouldn’t dream of posting anything here too emotionally revealing. That’s easy when you’re on top of things. There’s no need to reveal anything, and probably not much to reveal anyway.

It’s a different story when it gets tough. Under pressure the fissures appear. It becomes your life, to the point that there’s little you can write that doesn’t expose some emotional crisis. If I had of stuck to the old rules I’d either be posting very little here, or else posting things rendered meaningless by lack of true context.

It’s funny, I read a post of mine going back to 2009. I was complaining about the bad year I’d had. You aint seen nothing yet brother, I thought. I sort of looked down my nose at that earlier me – he had it easy, and was soft because of it.

Things have got a lot tougher since then, but I’m still standing. If next year I had a ‘bad’ year like he described I’d be counting my lucky stars. It’s all relative.

If I have money in my pocket, a roof over my head, food on the table, good health, and purpose in my life then I’m a rich man. Anything much more than that is a great bonus.

So, I’m not asking you to donate – that’s just too crass and pitiful. Good vibes will help me along the way though, so be generous.

Things I can’t do


In the city on Wednesday I caught up with Cheeseboy around lunchtime for a coffee. It was a bright, blue, brilliant day, and as we walked towards the chose cafe he asked, as is normal, how I was progressing in my various ventures. By and large the answer was negative, as was my situation in general. “You’ve got to get a job,” he exclaimed, “you’ve just got to get a job.”

I was tempted to thank him for this piece of sage advice, to respond with something along the lines of “thanks, I might try that,” but instead walked on silently. He’s right, I do need a job, very badly, but I don’t need to be told that.

People often say things like that to me. I’m not offended by it, though there is a sense of familiar exasperation. People mean well, and often times these things come out because they can’t think of anything else to say. I’m aware my circumstances and predicament often makes it awkward and embarrassing for others. Even at the best of times I will often feel the odd man out, the elephant in the room.

All the same it’s not hard to feel patronised sometimes. Not so much from the likes of Cheeseboy, who I’m close to, and who loves me like a brother, but others, the people you catch up with 5 minutes very so often who and have an opinion on your situation they want to share.

This is hard on me because I always have been, and remain, a proud man. There’s no getting away from the fact that I’m now a supplicant. I’m constantly searching for a job, any job, just to get by. I’m always trying to find ways to make money, or save it. Unlike most I don’t have a job to go to, or money in my pocket, and very rarely do I get to experience the simple pleasures those things can facilitate. Too often I’m reliant on others. Essentially, I now live my life on my knees – but it’s not something I want reminding of.

Yesterday I had another friend suggest I could perhaps become an Uber driver. It’s something I’d looked into previously. As an option it was better than nothing, but best as a supplementary income. Regardless it is not something I can do because my car is uninsured. End of story.

My friend responded in shock, mate, you’ve got to get your car insured. He’s right, I do, but the reason I haven’t is because I can’t.

My car insurance is a handy metaphor for my situation. When it fell due about a year ago I knew I couldn’t renew it. As it lapsed I was certain that within a couple of weeks I would be in an accident just to rub it in. I was always the sort of person right on top of such things. Not renewing my car insurance was not a choice I made, but simply the exercise of reality. I couldn’t pay what I didn’t have, and that’s true for so much.

One of the hardest things I find in my situation is that there’s no-one who understands what it’s like if they haven’t been through it themselves.

You try to look to the future, but you’re always dragged into the immediate. You wonder how you’ll get to work tomorrow because your car’s running on empty. You need to get some petrol, no two ways. You can spare $20 perhaps, but that means you can’t buy groceries. You haven’t had lunch this week, or last week or indeed any day over the last 3 months.

The gas bill is due and the electricity overdue. Your phone has only just been re-connected after paying the arrears. There’s hardly any food in the pantry, but even so the priority is food for Rigby first. Whatever’s left over is yours.

Your mind does it’s sums trying to make things add up, but no matter how many times you try you’re always short. Something will have to be sacrificed, and even then it’s a scramble.

You go to bed, you wake up, you get by, and when you’ve got a moment you try to find a way out of this miserable existence. It takes immense focus just to get by, but it takes its toll.

How I wish I could find someone to explain this too and know they would understand without comment. I’m not searching for pity – I’m striving to make things work out. I don’t like talking about these things, but as much as anything I miss having someone who has an understanding of how bloody tough this is. In the absence of that the isolation – emotional and psychological, as well as social – deepens; and the gap between me and society widens.

I know I should pay my car insurance. I actually got a quote a month ago. I have to pay the gas and electricity bills too though, both overdue. My car payment is late by 3 weeks, and if I don’t pay my phone bill in a week it will be cut-off again. My internet is due tomorrow, and the rent – to which I’ve got nothing set aside – is due in 10 days. And I almost forgot – my car rego is due next week.

You tell me. I can’t pay all. What do I pay? What’s my priorities? How do I manage it? What excuses can I come up with? How do I secure an extension? Where do I find extra dollars? Which phone calls do I take, and which do I ignore?

There’s a lot of things I should do, but only a short list of things I can do. My life is balancing priorities, and unfortunately the immediate and most pressing priority is always that of survival.

I live this 24/7. I don’t get a break from it. I’m thankful for the support and encouragement, and I’m always open to new ideas. Just know I’ve considered most things, and tried many of them. Every day I’m out there trying something. And if there’s something I haven’t done that perhaps I could have it’s probably because I can’t.

Critical phase


I’m dreaming a lot these days. In my experience, that’s generally a sign that there’s a bit going on.

Last night I had two dreams one after the after that pretty well encapsulated my present situation. In the first dream I was poised to, or just become, homeless again. This is a very real possibility for me.
In the second dream I was working, but only just. I was consulting to a client thanks to friends who had recommended me. The job was a bit unusual for me. I was working with SAP again, something I haven’t done for about 10 years, and so I tread carefully. I was conscious of the fact that this might represent my way out, as long as I didn’t fuck it up. Dream ended with everything ticking along well, but no guarantees.

I finished my job today at noon. I may get further work there again, but it’s unlikely and not something I should be counting on. It finished sooner than anticipated because I was a little too efficient, and leaves me probably two days short of salary I’d budgeted on.
At the same time, this morning I discovered that a BAS refund I was counting on would not be coming through. It’s left me in a very sticky situation.

As it stands my rent is overdue and I’m short on it by about $500 – which I was counting on the BAS to cover. I have a gas bill overdue also, as well as a car payment. I have bugger all in my pocket and nothing coming in for about a fortnight.

I’d have had kittens in a situation like this a few years ago. I’m not happy now, but at the same time I’ve been conditioned to expect this life. I hate how I’ve had to expect a lowering of standards, simply because there has been no other option. Once upon a time I paid on the button. Once upon a time I never relied on getting help from friends. But once upon a time I had money.

It’s not a pleasant situation to be in, and the worst of it is that I haven’t got an answer right now, short of borrowing money again (I lose a tiny bit of my soul each I have to do that).

I’m open to suggestion folks. In the meantime, I’m sitting here trying to drum things up. There’re a few job applications outstanding. A meeting on Friday that might come up trumps. That’s about it though. I’m calling people now, and put the word out for writing jobs.
I’m now in the critical phase. Unless something changes the first of those dreams will be prophetic. Reckon I have about two weeks to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Perhaps the second dream shows the way.

For want of an email


So, turns out that I got docked because my stellar Financial Counsellor fucked up again. I haven’t told the full story of my recent dealings with her, which have been scant and angry. Life is like that I realise, full of well-intentioned incompetence and lazy indifference. It’s the history of the world as much as anything else, the epic battles and charismatic leaders balanced out by the untold, unheralded, unknown tales of sheer stupidity.

In brief, I went to my financial counsellor about 7 weeks ago and told her to get things moving. With the prospect of dollars coming my way I wanted to tidy up my affairs, which meant proposing arrangements with my creditors. There and then, while I sat there, she sent out about half a dozen faxes to my assortment of creditors.

A few days later she sent me a message telling me that one of my creditors had responded with an offer which seemed reasonable. Was I willing to accept it? I replied with a yes inside an hour, and that was the last I heard of it.

I spent the next few weeks sending her emails and making unanswered calls chasing up this issue, and the remaining, to see where things were at. I got nothing from her and it was only much later that I discovered that she had done nothing. By that time the deal was off the table, collections agencies were on the phone to me, and I was listed as being in default.

I finally tracked her down only after complaining directly to Salvation Army administration, but the horse had bolted. One deal was gone, others were lost somewhere in the murk, and, as I found over the weekend, the further consequences meant that I was out-of-pocket by $3,500.

Turns out my bank took the money from me because I owe money on my credit card with them. They took it because my Financial Counsellor had not responded to their proposal. In other words, the money would not have been taken from me had she done her job, and by now I’d likely have had a deal on the table.

She had only to respond to them by email and none of this situation would’ve arisen and I’d be thousands better off.

To ANZ’s credit they’ve been reasonable. I called them first thing this morning and was given details. I got onto my Financial Counsellor to rectify it. Not trusting her I acted on my own behalf just in case. I got onto a very reasonable guy who grasped and appreciated the situation quickly and promised to help. The outcome of all that is that I’m likely to have the debit reversed, but have to jump through some hoops first. There will need to be some kind of arrangement, but what pisses me is that the arrangement will be of less benefit to me now than it would have been had my financial counsellor had done her job properly a month ago.

That was then – predictably it became more complex later.

I got back from work to find an email from my financial counsellor stating she had a deal with the bank that materially worse than what I had discussed with them earlier. I was exasperated. I told her so. Then I rang the bank myself.

What followed was quite an intense 15 minute conversation. I was seething. I’m good at strong conversations. I may be in beta minus situation, but I remain an alpha character, and it’s in my voice and in my attitude.

They had proposed two options. The first is that they keep the money they took, and make an arrangement for the balance. Or they return half of it and make an arrangement. So generous.

Either option was pointless in my situation. I told them that. I explained my situation, how I needed the money to get a place to live, how if they failed to return it to me then they’d be responsible for me living on the street next week. A little melodramatic, but broadly true. We went too and fro. She held her ground but gradually I beat her back.

First she said that if I provide the paperwork they would discuss reversing the debit. Not good enough I told her. I need a commitment. Not a discussion, but a clear yes or no. Finally she acceded to that.

I guess it’s a victory, but it doesn’t feel like it. I still have to cough up the proof they want to get my own money back, and hope I have it in time to secure a property. And on top of that I’ve lost out on the arrangement I might have had – perhaps a 50% discount on the debt – because my financial counsellor didn’t respond to it.

I need her to clean up as much as she can, but it’s clear she doesn’t want anything to do with it. She’s out of her depth. I want some compensation for what’s happened, but I’ve already looked into getting another financial counsellor to act for me.

It’s fortunate I’m a resilient character. This is serious business. Someone more frail might have felt seriously overwhelmed by the events of the last few days, and quite possibly very depressed.

Robbing the leaners


Late yesterday went to the local supermarket, bought a few groceries, and then went to the self-checkout to pay. I presented my card the first time and it said no good. Thinking it was one of those bank anomalies I tried again, to the same result. By now I was very puzzled. God knows I’m not awash with funds, but I should have had several thousand dollars in my account put aside for when I find somewhere to live.

I paid by cash and left. Out in the street I opened the bank app on my phone to check my account. Sure enough, I was overdrawn. Somewhat shockingly a withdrawal of $3,500 was listed there, with the vague  reference ‘Details advised separately’. It was an ominous, disconcerting report.

I drove back feeling close to desperate. If this money is gone then I’m fucked. I spent most of yesterday looking for somewhere to live, all of which becomes academic if I can’t afford to move in – I need a month’s rent, bond, plus dollars for the removalist. I really don’t know  what comes next if I don’t get the money back, but it isn’t pretty.

Back at the house I rang the bank straight away. They weren’t able to tell me much more as the details hadn’t filtered through to them as yet. They did suggest that it could be a court ordered debit – more ominous music – which they would have no other option but to comply with. They suggested I ring Monday morning for more detail.

Now I know of no court order, and have received no correspondence about this. It’s totally out of the blue. The only party I know  of who could compel this, and have reason to, is the ATO – but even that doesn’t make sense.

I received advice a few weeks ago that my application to the Department of Finance to have my debt waived was knocked back, as I expected. A couple of weeks  ago I received a statement from the ATO requesting that I pay the full debt of $37K odd by this coming Monday – tomorrow. Good luck with that, but would it suggests is that they would do nothing until that date has passed. If they’re garnishing my account already then they’ve jumped the gun.

It’s a mystery, but not one of the type you’d happily curl up with on a  Saturday afternoon. You know it’s bad when even my sister asks why these things always happen to me. I must have been a bad boy in my previous life.

As you can probably tell I’ve processed this a bit since last night, but this is a critical, and potentially life-changing moment. If that money is gone, then so too are my immediate – and possibly permanent – hopes of returning to a normal life.

It seems terribly unfair, and if it’s proved that this money has been taken from me on court order, then terribly unjust also. For a  start you would think someone would tell me of it. In the second place it seems awfully wrong that they can reach into your account and  take money from you without your say-so. Ultimately though there’s something wrong when someone like me, homeless and struggling to get back on my own two feet, can be knocked back on my arse in favour of some corporation or government. It’s shocking to think that the Australian government will favour its own bodies over the rights of one of their citizens in dire circumstances. Shocking, but not terribly surprising in these abject times – I am, after all, a leaner in the vernacular of the government.

The irony, and  tragedy of it, is that I’m leaner striving to become a lifter – and it’s the government who may prevent it.

H vrs the ATO


I’m writing this just because I want to record it, but I don’t really like saying anything about it. That seems true of a lot of stuff lately.

I had a meeting at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on Friday with an adjudicator, and the Australian Tax Office.

Without wanting to go into the long, drawn-out rigmarole leading to this, the basic gist is that several years ago I incurred a tax liability which I was later unable to pay because of unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances. After some discussions with the ATO last year I was advised by one of their representatives that I could appeal to have the debt reduced or waived on grounds of hardship. I put in an application and was ultimately rejected on the grounds that my hardship was too severe – basically meaning I was so fucked that waiving the debt wouldn’t unfuck me. It seemed a strange perspective.

I appealed again, and after several months waiting for a response was finally advised that this appeal had failed – because I wasn’t fucked enough. About this time I felt like Goldilocks visiting the three bears. I’d tasted the porridge that was too hot, had found the porridge too cold, and was wondering if ‘just right’ actually existed. In any case I went back to them expressing my exasperation. That’s what led to our meeting on Friday.

Have to say I didn’t go with the greatest of expectations. The ATO is not commonly perceived as a family friendly organisation. It’s hard to argue with the tax department and win. The events of Friday seemed to bear that out. The ATO’s position can be pretty well described as ‘it’s our way or the highway’.

For the most part the meeting was civil. The adjudicator was a friendly, reasonable man, obviously expert in these matters. The representative from the ATO was more uptight, though pleasant enough. I wasn’t sure how it was supposed to proceed, but basically I had to explain to them why my hardship was of sufficient severity to warrant an exemption. Given the sate of my affairs that seemed a lay down misere, but of course I was mistaken thinking that.

They tell me that the legislation in matters like this is pretty clear. The adjudicator was sympathetic to my situation, and apologetic – his hands were tied. I became frustrated, and began asking questions to which I received no clear answer. I was reminded repeatedly that the ATO is not a commercial organisation – which means, basically, they’re not interested in coming to commercial arrangements even when it’s in their interest. They’re like a robot that processes information without discernment, pumping out judgements based on rigid parameters. Even so, there appear grey areas.

I went away from the meeting with their recommendation that I should come to an arrangement with the ATO. Take note that an arrangement is not a deal. I was asked if we could deal and was told that for the ATO it’s all or nothing. An arrangement is something by which I agree to pay the full 100% in agreed instalments. Otherwise, as I was told, they’ll take the money, or make me bankrupt. They’re a black and white organisation.

That night I wondered what advantage there is in coming to an arrangement. None without incentive. Had they offered me a discount of say 30% I’d have agreed to it, notwithstanding the fact I barely have two shekels to rub together. In the absence of such an offer though why would I agree? Surely it’s in my interest to drag the process out, to extend my freedom from this for another 12 months or more? Especially when there is the chance that an independent tribunal might find in my favour.

This is the utter stupidity of the intractable philosophy of the ATO. This has already cost $3,000 in accounting fees, and much more in man hours, not to mention the cost of meeting on Friday. What will another 12 months of this cost? Isn’t it better just to get the deal done? You would think so, but that ignores the political, punitive and bureaucratic nature of this decision. We know they’re not a commercial organisation, so spending $50K to get $30K doesn’t factor. More to the point I believe, they can’t be seen as doing deals or being ‘soft’. It’s the outcome that matters, not the process, and certainly not the individual.

I was angry the following day, and defiant. As an Australian citizen I deplore such wastage. Coming from a commercial background deals are done every day to get things moving. So the government isn’t commercial, but perhaps it would do well to have a more commercial – and efficient – perspective. I was greatly troubled also by the indifference they have towards their own citzens. I was told stories of how they had effectively ruined people to get their pound of flesh. By my reckoning the ATO, as part of the government, should be serving the people. I may be in dispute about tax now, but I’ve been a taxpayer for 30 years. By my reckoning that makes me a shareholder. I don’t think shareholders should be treated that way; more to the point, the Australian government should not be in the business of making paupers of its citizens. (Of course this is a high falutin’ ideal. Looking how the likes of Julian Assange is treated makes it clear the government has little regard for the rights of its citizens when it doesn’t suit them.)

In any case I came up with several objections that I will take further:

  • At what point is hardship determined? Where is the line drawn in the sand? This is a question I asked, and they couldn’t give me an answer. It appears to me that they shift the goalposts to a place that suits them.
  • The refusal to deal seems a convention rather than anything enshrined in legislation. They may not ‘do deals’, but there’s no legal reason that they can’t.
  • Is it legal for them – bearing in mind they have a provision for hardship – that in executing their claims they put the appellant into a position of hardship? (They threatened to take the proceeds of my shop if I sell it. I asked them: “if I sell the business for $20K and you take it, could I then claim and be granted hardship?” They didn’t know. Hmm, probably. This too makes a mockery of the process.)
  • Finally – and this is a value judgement about the rights of citizenship – is it right for the Australian government in executing its legislation to put her citizens in peril? My argument on Friday was that I want to be a taxpayer for the next 15-20 years, and go for your life. My ability to be that is severely crippled if the ATO take from me the means to generate income, make for myself a life, and ultimately pay tax.

I’m seeing a legal aid lawyer, and consulting with a specialist tax lawyer pro bono. I’m due to meet with these same dudes in a months time.

Win-lose


I’m in dispute with my accountant at the moment over his latest bill, which seems exorbitant. I wrote explaining my concerns: that work had been completed that I hadn’t requested; that the time taken, with the associated cost, seemed far more than what the tasks demanded; and that a letter of engagement setting our their costs and conditions hadn’t been provided to me before the work commenced (apparently a no-no).

I’m not without blame in this. I should have been clearer in what I wanted them to do for me, and should have understood that having requested a company tax return, for example, it was natural for them to also complete the company accounts. The greater oversight on my part was not demanding the engagement letter. They’re at fault by not formally submitting it, but I’m a duffer for not asking for it before they started working.

My error is a common one for me. You would think I would know better, but my default attitude is one of trust. I’m one of those old-fashioned types who generally believes that people will do the right thing, and that my word is as good as my bond. Mostly that’s good enough too, but not always obviously. (Ironically when wearing my consultants hat I’m a stickler for getting everything ticked off as a matter of good governance).

I received a response yesterday to my email. I won’t bother going through all the blah, blah, blahs, but it’s the last line that caught my eye. He stated, my accountant, that normally he would be charging me for the time he took in responding to my email, but on this occasion he would waive it. To me that goes to the heart of a lot of things wrong in professional services these days.

I used to work in that environment. I still do occasionally. When I worked for one of the international firms it was gospel that we would charge our time out in 7 minute, or 11 minute (elsewhere), blocks. That was drilled into us.

It never sat comfortably with me. It made me feel mercenary. More particularly it made me feel that my purpose in meeting with clients was to rack up billable hours in 7 minute increments, rather than serve them with my expertise and experience. It reduced me to a commodity. I guess that’s the bottom line when you’re doing business, but when it’s such a blatant factor I think it corrupts the process, and undermines trust.

Trust should be the essential aspect of the relationship between client and consultant: faith that the job will get done as it has been contracted, and confidence that the trust between client and consultant will not be abused.

The fact of the matter is that consultants and professional services firms are held in poor regard by so many because that trust does not exist. There are bad apples out there who gold plate their contract, or drag the job out to maximise their income. More commonly professional service firms invoice their clients virtually down to the second. That may be in their charter, but it does nothing to build rapport with the client, who comes away thinking that in the consulting world greed is good.

I think it’s foolish. I’m a strong believer in partnering with my client. I’m in it with them, and I want them to know that. I find that goal is undermined if I then start charging them for everything. I provide my clients with a service agreement which details everything. I make it clear at the same time that I’m flexible and reasonable. I don’t start the meter any time they call me. Email is a part of business, and not something I will add to the invoice. In fact I tend to be generous and err on the side of conservatism when I bill them.

I think that’s good business practice. It engenders trust and it builds a relationship. I’m a straight-shooter, and they know it. Most importantly it makes for long-term relationships. I’d rather work with a client repeatedly over a number of years than milk him dry at the first opportunity and never see him again. What I’m about is creating goodwill.

That’s what my accountant has lost. He’s gone hard finding every angle to bill me – this is not the first time I’ve had reason to object. Well, he’s got some cash out of me, but he’s lost my business.