ATHENS – In a stunning blow to Greeks already buried by austerity – and those in the Diaspora with property in the country – the Finance Ministry said they must pay astronomical bills under a new unified property tax bill it admitted were based on inaccurate and outdated data.
The Finance Ministry on Aug. 4 posted online the Single Property Ownership Tax (ENFIA) and later said they were calculated in many cases on omissions and faulty information – but must be paid for now anyway until the real amounts can be sorted out.
Tax accountants said properties were overtaxed in no less than 457 districts across the country, while tax officials referred citizens protesting the exorbitant sums calculated to ministry headquarters.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had promised no new austerity measures but the new bills represent another big hit for people already buried by big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings on the orders of international lenders – who also demanded the new unified tax.
The Finance Ministry itself issued a statement admitting many bills were wrong and said they would be corrected eventually, but didn’t say whether the first of five installments, due at the end of the month, would have to be paid regardless.
“Distortions and omissions, due to the non-exhaustive consideration given to all the special cases envisaged by law, led to excessive calculations, especially as regards some land plots in rural areas,” said the statement.
But the ministry also put part of the blame on the taxpayers themselves, implying that many may have declared false data regarding their properties in the past: “Distortions have also been highlighted now that a detailed electronic processing of all data has been carried out.”
The ministry said faulty data or omissions entered in past declarations may be corrected by amendment until November 30, without being liable to fines, and that any excessive dues paid by that time will be rebated when the final clearing is made.
Some of the mistakes went against current law. Families with three children or more and earthquake victims on the island of Cephalonia, for example, were not partly exempted despite a specification in the law.
ENFIA, the new tax, incorporates all previous property levies, including the emergency tax collected for the first time via electricity bills in 2011.
The newspaper Kathimerini said it was told by sources it didn’t identify that some government officials fear the issue may become a friction point in upcoming negotiations with the country’s creditors who said the electricity bill surcharge was proving highly collectible but now likely to be compromised by the confusion surrounding ENFIA.
The surcharge was first put in place three years ago during a previous PASOK Socialist administration when Evangelos Venizelos was Finance Minister. He is now Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister, with his party serving Samaras’ New Democracy Conservatives in a coalition.
The surcharge, up to 100 percent in some cases, was supposed to be for one year but now is being permanently folded into the ENFIA.
The main opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) which opposes the austerity measures imposed by the government said the bills for property owners were “clear proof of the government’s barbaric and unfair tax policy.”