Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Tax day in Sweden - where is the festival of yesteryear?

I used to chuckle over the long lines of people handing in their tax declarations at the last moment - the streets would thick with traffic, people driving by the mighty taxation building Skatteskrapan, the only skyskraper on Söder and handing their declaration to staff standing on the street.
There would be music, stands selling hotdogs and who knows what else - you could almost be mistaken for thinking it was a festival. Are the Swedes so happy to pay tax?

Nowdays the Swedish National Tax Board is located in newer, more modern offices a block or so away from the skyskraper. Nowdays this highrise is the home of 600 or so students with the best view of Stockholm, shops, bars and restaurants.

The Tax Board have not only more modern offices but their ways of working have modernised over the years too. Lars Epstein remembers when tax day was February 15th, when the streets were covered in snow and the queues miles long as the majority of Stockholmers not only left it to the last day by hundreds handed it in at the last minute. With the deadline being midnight there were a lot of people on Götgatan all night long. He remembers the orchestra playing, the magicians and their tricks, all the hotdog carts and the alcohol free glögg.

Since the good ol' days we have seen the introduction of pre-printed declarations that require little more than a signature, and then the introduction of the telephone, the internet and the sms declarations!! Each year it gets easier. I can't help but wonder if there is anywhere else in the world where you can do your tax declaration with an SMS? Is there anywhere else in the world where the government knows your every move to the extent that no other information is needed? Big brother is indeed watching....

Having laughed in the past at people leaving it to last minute it was my turn this year, and I was still working on my declaration during the day! Somehow I thought I had another few days - kind of nasty to make it the day after a nice long weekend don't you think? It was my first business declaration in many years - so this time it was not just a case of signing on the dotted line.

I had expected to have to fill it all out on paper as I had a whole series of extra forms that had to be filled in and changes that had to be made on the main declaration, but was pleasantly surprised to be able to do it on the internet. Anyone is able to submit their declaration online - all you need is your national identity number and the code printed on your tax declaration, enabling you to make a few basic changes to the form.

E-legitimation (or e-ID) on the other hand opens up a whole range of opportunities. E-ID is a certificate downloaded off the net onto your computer and in conjunciton with your password it enables you to identify yourself when dealing with many of the government institutions. I'm sure it sends shivers down the spines of all the internet-security-skeptics but it requires the user to have both the downloaded certificate and the password.

So with my e-ID I was not only able to go in and fill out all the forms electronically but I could save them and go back and make changes. What's more I can still go back and make changes up until June something - but then there is no guarantee of getting your return back before Midsummer. It takes away the panic - as long as you get it in by May 4th you can procrastinate a little longer.....

I found it fairly easy to navigate my way through the documents and fill in all the required information - not bad for someone who used to have a phobia!! And was able to ask a very accommodating friend for help with the bits I didn't quite understand. All in all I have to say it is a whole lot easier than it was when I ran a business 10 years ago - which confirms the promises over the years of simplifying things for small business have been fulfilled - at least to some extent.

According to Internet World 3.6 million people had submitted their declaration electronically as of Sunday night. As I sat there Monday without any problems accessing my documentation I couldn't help but wonder what sort of capacity Skatteverket had and would love to know how many others were online at the same time as I was. Despite this record number of internet users only some 857 000 had used their e-ID so far and the overall figures were 5% under the anticipated 60% and much lower that the long term goal of 80%. I wonder how long it will be before they stop sending out the paper declarations?

As Lars Epstein says: The party on Söder on tax day is over. Click on this photo to see his photos of the deserted streets. The party it well and truly over!

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