A few years after we moved to the Wairarapa, I received an alarming letter.The debt-collection company went on to threaten immediate legal action. The huge (by my standards) debt was apparently owed to the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). This is an official body in New Zealand whose job is to compensate accident victims and cover their medical costs. It’s a sort of compulsory insurance scheme. Part of its funding comes from levies on employers and on self-employed people. Of course I telephoned ACC right away.
It seems they get information about people’s incomes from their tax forms, but this hadn’t included my up-to-date address. When there was no response to their invoices (because I hadn’t received them) they called in the debt-collectors.
It turned out the cause of the debt was my income from the spinning wheel book. I had dutifully declared to the New Zealand Inland Revenue Department my expenses and income from the book, which over the three years it was on sale had resulted in a profit of around NZ$1,000. (No sympathy is required – I hadn’t intended to make that much from it.) Eventually there were three invoices, adding up to over $4,500.So how come they were charging me so much levy on tiny earnings? It was because I was a full-time dairy farmer. Dairy farmers in New Zealand pay quite a high levy because it’s a somewhat risky occupation: cows kick, tractors tip over, and so on. And there are minimum levies – however small a livestock farmer’s income, they have to pay no less than a certain amount.
“I didn’t know you were a dairy farmer” you may say. Well neither did I. I have never owned a dairy cow or other type of cattle in my life and I don’t even much like them. I’m dairy intolerant, so don’t drink milk. I can only assume that I’d been confused with someone else. This is definitely not me:
A flurry of documents and telephone calls followed. Finally they made some changes. I received a new invoice. I wasn’t a dairy farmer any more, but I still owed them plenty of money.Now I was a full-time beef cattle farmer! How did that happen? More telephone calls, more exchange of documents. I must say that in all this frustrating time, everyone I spoke to on the telephone was courteous and patient, and did their best to help. ACC’s computer system, however, seemed to have an agenda of its own.
After a couple of months of this, success.Finally, there was nothing to pay. But then I looked near the top of the page.I’m still a beef cattle farmer! Back to the telephone. No good. “We can’t change that – the computer won’t let us change any details because you don’t owe us anything!”
So that was that, until on this year’s tax form I had to declare $144 profit earned teaching a workshop about preparing and spinning greasy, unprocessed fleece. My heart sank when an envelope arrived the other day with this in the corner.
Sure enough, they still thought I was a full-time beef cattle farmer and they wanted me to pay $1,363.81. It was back to the phone again. I’d so much rather be tinkering with spinning wheels. However, I have now been promised a statement that I owe nothing, and am listed as part-time (which should make a difference) with no cattle involved. I’m waiting in hope.