Greek Home Owners Get Hit With Emergency Property Tax

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Many people in Greece are strapped for cash and they're now parting with even more of their hard earned money. As part of the deal with its creditors the Greek government is raising taxes on a whole range of things. For example, it's hoping to raise two billion euros by the end of the year through an emergency property tax. That tax is being added to homeowners electricity bills in an attempt to reduce tax evasion. But some people are refusing to pay saying it's just not fair, especially with winter coming on. I spoke with the BBC's Chloe Hadjimatheou just back from Athens. She says the government is determined to force the issue.

Chloe Hadjimatheou: No one as far as we know has been cut off yet. The government has extended the deadline specifically so that people won't go without electricity over Christmas. But they have said they will cut people off if they refuse to pay and we're gonna start seeing people cut off in January, although now groups of activists have started forming. Specifically, electricians have started gathering together and calling themselves electrician activists, and they vowed to reconnect anyone who's being cut off.

Werman: Right, and at least one neighborhood that you went to, those electricians are actually getting some surreptitious help from the mayor. What's happening there?

Hadjimatheou: Well, the mayor of [inaudible 1:13], which is quite a poor district in northern Athens has created an office in the town hall for people who can't afford to pay, and also people who are refusing to pay, to go and seek legal advice. And parallel to that he has gathered together a group of these activist electricians and he has vowed that anyone in his district that's cut off will receive help from an activist electrician. I met one of these electricians who told me that he's had advice from the national electricity company, from employees there on how to go about making these reconnections. So they're prepared and they're ready to go ahead and illegally reconnect anyone, and they're prepared to take the consequences too.

Werman: And what are they doing, taking you know, automobile jumper cables from power lines and just hooking them up to the house?

Hadjimatheou: In fact, this electrician showed me how it's done. It seems that their is a little spark plug inside the electricity box that the electricity company would come and remove. So they're prepared with these little spark plugs to go and reinstate them in the electricity boxes. It's that simple really.

Werman: Won't the utility companies figure that out? Can't they see you know, if juice is going to a disconnected home?

Hadjimatheou: They probably can and it may end up as a little war of spark plugs.

Werman: Well, for individuals it doesn't sound like it's going to be necessarily a dark Christmas, but certainly a bleak Christmas this year in Greece.

Hadjimatheou: Yes, may people feel very upset about this and although the government is saying that they have collected about 80 percent of the taxes they have sent out (so many people aren't prepared to take the risk), there has been a very large backlash. And people are sitting and waiting to see if they will be disconnected next year. Many people say they feel they're being blackmailed by the government and they just won't play that game.

Werman: The BBC's Chloe Hadjimatheou, thank you so much.

Hadjimatheou: Thank you.