Charlie's Diary

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Sun, 20 Jun 2004

A taxing time

In this age of the interwebnet thingy, I'm revisiting my policy of not having anything to do with online banking, online utility bills, and indeed online anything to do with tax or business expenses or savings.

And you know what? I've decided to get even more serious about my everything-on-paper policy. Electronic statements are right out.

As Wendy Grossman observes, paperless phone/gas/electricity statements don't actually save you any time. What they save is expensive laser-printer time and postal charges for your utility company, which is another matter.

But a more subtle point occurs to me. The Inland Revenue, as a matter of policy, audit some folks at random every year pour encourager les autres. I'm no tax evader, but even so as a self-employed person there's a finite probability that I'll get a nasty letter one day saying "justify these expense claims for the trip you made to a science fiction convention in Burkina Faso in 1973". Well, not 1973 -- they only go back seven years, as I understand it. But you'd better be ready to produce the evidence if they ask, or else.

Now, it is possible that the banks and utility companies will keep your electronic statements on line for seven years, but I wouldn't bet on it. After all, you are the one with the responsibility to the income tax authorities; the utility companies have entirely different obligations which don't include acting as your personal amanuensis. Moreover, once the accounting system is online it becomes easier for some bright spark at Head Office to decide to enhance shareholder value (and their career) by dinking with the files delivered to the customers. The odds are that even if your statements of account are online in seven years time, the format they're in will have mutated radically. Say goodbye to any rational hope of being able to scrape the data out of the web pages and drag them into a spreadsheet -- you're still going to end up slaving over a hot calculator.

And it gets worse. In this age of enhanced consumer choice (which we're supposed to be grateful for and accept as a substitute for the defective, rusty democracy 1.0 that's subject to a product recall notice, it seems) we can change bank. And we can change gas supplier or change electricity company. Never mind the phone and cable bills, right? Now. Suppose I start getting my gas from a new company. Am I still going to have access to my old supplier's statements database? Am I buggery. They've deleted the account and giving me access would be a business overhead that doesn't benefit them.

All of this might be okay if the statements are made available in a friendly open file format and if all customers who receive online bills actually remember to download them and store them somewhere sensible. But most of us change computers every couple of years, and a five year old computer is very long in the tooth indeed: and data loss during a migration is one of those facts of life that even experts struggle to deal with. If your gas bills from GasCoPrime five years ago are in Excel 95 format and your current gas bills from GasCoSecundus are in XML and you don't have a copy of Excel, you're up shit creek. If you've also lost your Excel 95 gas bills from GasCoPrime you've probably lost your paddle as well. Proving the legitimacy of your archival expenses claims to the Revenue just got a whole lot harder.

In contrast, five years' raw receipts and hardcopy printed accounts for my self-employed occupation occupy a plastic box the size of a filing cabinet drawer that sits in the attic. (Yes, I live in a single-storey apartment with an attic.) And the most recent couple of years -- including the current unsorted stuff -- fills another filing cabinet drawer. And y'know something? I'm going to keep it that way as long as I can.

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posted at: 11:58 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

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Some webby stuff I'm reading:

Engadget ]
Gizmodo ]
The Memory Hole ]
Boing!Boing! ]
Futurismic ]
Walter Jon Williams ]
Making Light (TNH) ]
Crooked Timber ]
Junius (Chris Bertram) ]
Baghdad Burning (Riverbend) ]
Bruce Sterling ]
Ian McDonald ]
Amygdala (Gary Farber) ]
Cyborg Democracy ]
Body and Soul (Jeanne d'Arc)  ]
Atrios ]
The Sideshow (Avedon Carol) ]
This Modern World (Tom Tomorrow) ]
Jesus's General ]
Mick Farren ]
Early days of a Better Nation (Ken MacLeod) ]
Respectful of Otters (Rivka) ]
Tangent Online ]
Grouse Today ]
Hacktivismo ]
Terra Nova ]
Whatever (John Scalzi) ]
Justine Larbalestier ]
Yankee Fog ]
The Law west of Ealing Broadway ]
Cough the Lot ]
The Yorkshire Ranter ]
Newshog ]
Kung Fu Monkey ]
S1ngularity ]
Pagan Prattle ]
Gwyneth Jones ]
Calpundit ]
Lenin's Tomb ]
Progressive Gold ]
Kathryn Cramer ]
Halfway down the Danube ]
Fistful of Euros ]
Orcinus ]
Shrillblog ]
Steve Gilliard ]
Frankenstein Journal (Chris Lawson) ]
The Panda's Thumb ]
Martin Wisse ]
Kuro5hin ]
Advogato ]
Talking Points Memo ]
The Register ]
Cryptome ]
Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
Global Guerillas (John Robb) ]
Shadow of the Hegemon (Demosthenes) ]
Simon Bisson's Journal ]
Max Sawicky's weblog ]
Guy Kewney's mobile campaign ]
Hitherby Dragons ]
Counterspin Central ]
MetaFilter ]
NTKnow ]
Encyclopaedia Astronautica ]
Fafblog ]
BBC News (Scotland) ]
Pravda ]
Meerkat open wire service ]
Warren Ellis ]
Brad DeLong ]
Hullabaloo (Digby) ]
Jeff Vail ]
The Whiskey Bar (Billmon) ]
Groupthink Central (Yuval Rubinstein) ]
Unmedia (Aziz Poonawalla) ]
Rebecca's Pocket (Rebecca Blood) ]

Older stuff:

June 2006
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December 2005
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December 2004
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August 2004
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May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
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October 2003
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April 2003
March 2003
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December 2002
November 2002
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March 2002
(I screwed the pooch in respect of the blosxom entry datestamps on March 28th, 2002, so everything before then shows up as being from the same time)

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