Sunday, July 15, 2012

Thinking of moving to Norway? Here's my story ...

My story is incredibly convoluted and boring to this just taking a passing interest so, here’s my story in Norway as briefly as is workable.

I worked in Norway, legally, with work permits for 9 years, paying tax in Norway and obliged to stay out of Norway for 3 months each time I left the country. Then the rules changed and I worked in Norway for more than 6 months in a year and an attempt was made to move me off the foreign workers’ tax scheme onto the main tax regime for Norwegian citizens and residents. That failed when Trondheim kommune simply refused to accept me as a resident. By this time, I had a tax card and had met a Norwegian girl and we’d bought a house in the Norwegian countryside (it was affordable), I got a residence permit, registered myself as a business, still had a tax card and was still moving things over to Norway from the UK so I may not have been in Norway for more than 3 months at a time.

The next year started with me flying to Bodo north of the Arctic Circle to work the day my son was born in Norway. The label on the suitcase of receipts from the previous year I’d mailed to myself in Bodo (I needed to work on my tax return) came off before it had travelled far from my “home” and was returned back to the sending post office. They phoned “home” to tell me it had been returned but the house was empty as my girlfriend was still in hospital with my son. The local post office then remembered I was working in Tromso and sent the suitcase there.

I’d given up having my post forwarded by the post office since it seemed it wasn’t anyones’ job at the local post office to attend to such things and what after a month’s worth of post had been forwarded to the very disorganised place I’d just left, I never had my post forwarded by the Norwegian post office again (they also “lost” another suitcase about four months previous to the one going to Bodo). It seemed the routine was to ignore the forwarding instructions for a month then realise the post should have been forwarded, panic, send the post without looking at the date forwarding was supposed to end and decide it was best to just leave it in the postboks. Even if post DID reach where I was working, it then had to run the gauntlet of perhaps well meaning bosses who would collect post for me but, before they could give it to me, end up going out for a night on the tiles and forgetting they ever collected my post. On a couple of occasions, I was in bosses’ offices and recognised the envelopes my Mum in the UK used to forward post amongst a pile of papers and would ask if that was post for me. They usually say “no” and have look and say “oh, it is! How did that get there?”

The problem with owning a house where it transpired there was no work for me and no business renting out to tourists is that, even though national insurance contributions were included in my tax bill, I wasn’t entitled to unemployment or social security so I had to keep working and that meant travelling further and further away from the house.

February, a month or so after my son was born, my residence permit was due for renewal. I filled out the form enclosing the only contracts I had showing how I was going to support myself in Norway. These were three contracts on a Norwegian registered boat covering 68 days. As usual, all the contracts for the land based jobs covering 146 days arrived after the application was sent. April came and there was no reply to my residence permit application and I was aware I may have been “living” in Norway illegally and I signed off the folkregister. The application to renew my residence permit was refused on the grounds that I didn’t need one since I wasn’t in Norway more than three months at a time. My work and circumstances didn’t change for the next 14 years so I kept my time in Norway legal by not being in the country for more than three months at a time yet somehow juggling being a Dad with having no work where my son and girlfriend lived.

This didn’t actually do the relationship with my girlfriend much good. She became depressed and went onto high doses of anti-depressants (50% of all Norwegians will suffer from depression and / or anxiety) and eventually we broke up but she, being Norwegian could carry on living in the middle of nowhere in Norway as a sick single mother on welfare benefits. I now had to :-

  1. Not be in Norway more than 3 months at a time
  2. Work more to cover the cost of paying a mortgage on my own
  3. Pay child benefit
  4. Somehow manage to find time and money to be “home” and have shared custody of my son living on “savings” since I had no entitlement to social security or unemployment benefits

I was blissfully unaware at this time that £50,000 worth of tax deducted from my wages had not been awarded any pension points in Norway and that a Norwegian company had been deducting taxes from my wages and only paying some of them to Skatteetaten. As far as I know, the people running Elite Music, Sarpsborg, Ywonne Biering Diana Skjønnhaug and her mother Elise Høvik were never prosecuted but the consequences of their “administration” of foreign workers taxes has been disastrous.

In my own case, since I’d signed off the folkregister when my un-renewed residence permit expired, I wasn’t registered as “living” in Norway and was on a foreigners’ tax schedule, all my mail was going to a PO Box in the UK I had kept after I “moved” to Norway. Mail from that PO Box went to my 80 year old Mum in the UK who did a much better job of forwarding mail to me than the Norwegian post office ever did.  She forwarded post to the postboks I had in Norway which I eventually collected when I went back “home” to my house in Norway to enjoyed some of my shared custody of my son.

The Norwegian tax return is, of course, designed for people who “live” in Norway. Since my residence permit renewal had been refused, I hadn’t had any idea where I had “lived”. The only thing I knew was that I owned a house in Norway, worked there, paid taxes there, had a son there but had a British passport and wasn’t supposed to be in Norway more than three months at a time (as an EU citizen, I was at least entitled to that).

The Norwegian Tax return asked me to enter the km travelled between “home” and work. Work was rarely the same place more than twice in a year and keeping in Norway less than three months at a time meant I sometimes went to jobs in Norway from the UK after one of my scheduled trips out of Norway to avoid being there illegally. This made me worry my distance calculations might be challenged as being fraudulent but, quite apart from that, since “travel expenses” were included in the invoices I sent to Elite Music, until I knew which months of work in Norway Elite Music had declared to Skatteetaten, I couldn’t know which travel expenses to declare and which to exclude.

About a year after I’d told Skatt Vest to send paperwork regarding my taxes to the postboks in Norway, papers where still being sent to the UK (I had to keep on paying for the PO Box in the UK just to make sure I didn’t miss any post from Skatt Vest, it was the only post arriving in it) and that included the papers showing what tax and work HAD been declared to Skatteetaten / Skatt Vest and what taxes HAD been paid to them. In February 2010 I finally managed to understand these papers and wrote and email to Skatt Vest (in which I told them I was travelling that day 7 hours away from my postboks to work) saying I had found details of the months Elite Music hadn’t declared and paid tax on enabling me to know which travel expenses could be entered on the 2007 tax return. They replied by letter to my postboks whilst I was in Sandefjord telling me I had three days to appeal against the 2007 tax assessment AT MY LOCAL OFFICE (where on earth was that? I didn’t even “live” in Norway?) and the Elite Music issue might be something I’d should bring up with the tax collector. 9 months later, I finally got a letter from Skatt Vest telling me how I should accommodate some of the chaos created by Elite Music in the 2007, 2008 and 2009 tax returns.

This chaos continued for years (and is still ongoing) and in the summer of 2010, I finally managed, when I was “home” to visit, 40 minutes away, my “local tax office” (Skatt Vest … I never work in the Skatt Vest area but I have to visit their offices .. I went into a Skatt Ost office and was told they couldn’t help me because I was a “Skatt Vest customer”) for advice on how to fill in my tax return for 2009 since I had no idea how much of the tax deducted from my wages by Elite Music had actually been paid to Skatt Vest. I was in the office for about 2 minutes whilst the receptionist told me they know nothing about foreign workers’ taxes and I needed to contact the office that had told me to contact my local tax office. I was literally being sent round in circles.

I am far from being alone in experiencing these problems. Over 20 foreign workers were unpaid by Elite Music in 2009 (including me … by September 2009 I was owed about £12,000 for work I’d done through Elite Music who had also been underdeclaring my work to Skatteetaten and not paying all taxes they’d deducted from me for a few years). On top of this, a neighbour who wanted to build a mini hydro electric plant had brought a case to “rationalise” the rights to water in the area which somehow involved me and produced kg of paperwork in legal Norwegian Nynorsk and Bokmal I couldn’t afford to have professionally translated and, the tax return asks if I have an income from water rights / hydro-electricity, a question to which I don’t know the answer until I get all the paper translated.

On top of this, every year, lightning fries my ADSL modem meaning I come “home”, collect my post then find I’m not online. I get online just as it’s time for me to go to work again. My house suffered water damage whilst I was away at work in 2009 and 2010 (20 months later, I am still waiting for the insurance company to organise someone to come and fix the open pipes to the septic tanks where toilets used to be. A snow plough drove through my broadband and phone intake one year then the next Hurricane Dagmar wrecked the telecommunications infrastructure so I am now dealing with a backlog of tax problems and a backlog of insurance cases on top of a load of paperwork surrounding the building of a hydro-electric plant I need to decipher.

A Norwegian could cite stress as a reason for taking a year off on benefits to plough through this stuff but, after paying tax to Norway for 23 years and owning a house here for 15, I’m still not even entitled to a regular doctor let alone any benefits even if I’m ill. Norwegian friends kindly suggest I’m of an age now where I should be going to see “my doctor” to get this and that checked. I’ve never had a doctor in Norway. I don’t say anything. I’d be wasting my breath. They can't do anything to change the system that governs my life here. I miss the UK!

I’m posting this “as is”. Sorry for any typos!

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