Friday, August 27, 2010

Praising Telefonica is simply not worth the risk

I have always considered Telefonica as part of the enemy i.e. one of the organisations or systems in Spain which serves to make and otherwise peaceful and idyllic life so difficult and frustrating at times. Along with the banks, utility companies, tax office, certain shops and tradesmen, garages, public sector bodies and officials, they are the ones that drive you mad with their inflexible bureaucracy, third world service standards and unresponsive staff, while you should be relaxing and sipping a glass of wine in the sun.

I have had all manner of complaints with Telefonica (now rebranded Movistar as their mobile division seems to have become all important) in the past to do with billing, line faults and installation. Probably my fault for moving about and needing their services quite a lot. They seem to be typical of an ex-monopoly that hasn't quite shaken off the worst features of being a cosseted state giant.
That was until recently. I had begun to notice a change in their service. Two or three times they have been right on the ball getting things done quickly and efficiently. They even rang up to offer a reduced tariff which didn't seem to come with strings attached.
I was right at the point of writing a blog post praising the turnaround and to see if anyone else had noticed a leopard changing its spots. And then ...
They cut me off! Not out of the blue - I had asked for the line to be deactivated at the end of the month, repeatedly stressing the date - but nevertheless my office line has simply ceased to be. Many confused and annoyed clients with me trying to make do with Skype (internet is so far mercifully available). Well, by their past standards it wasn't a major crime but I did feel the familiar Telefonica rage welling up inside me. I am only glad I didn't give them a glowing write-up on the blog last week. They still have a way to go to get themselves in my good books.
From the Advoco website -

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Spanish tax strategies for married couples

A little while allow the firm's website published a guide to the calculation of tax for married couples (Spanish Taxation of Married Couples) and it has prompted quite a lot of couples - or at least the half of the couple who do the tax stuff - to send in their queries.

Apart from the mechanics of the calculations, there have been a few proposals for cutting the overall tax bill by some restructuring of the couple's fiscal affairs. Often the question is "I've had this idea for reducing our tax bill; will it work?". People can get quite creative. I just wanted to comment on a couple of ideas:

Income sharing - often a retired or semi-retired couple will have a very uneven skew of income with one spouse earning almost everything. If some of the income could be shifted to the other spouse then that could save tax either by using up more of their personal allowances or shifting some of the couple's income out of higher rate tax. Obviously some sources of income are very specific to the person - like a pension or salary - but some deposit accounts and investments could be put in both names to divide the resulting income up between spouses.
Similarly couples where one spouse owns a business may be able to legitimately transfer some income to the other either by employing them in some capacity or, in the case of a limited company, paying a dividend to them.

A very specific idea I came across was the proposal to form a Spanish business partnership - Sociedad Civil (description of legal form here) - to take the place of a simple autonomo set-up. The husband was self-employed and earning a high and regular income; the wife earned nothing. The idea was that if they formed a partnership then they could say the partnership earned the money and then divide the proceeds between them as income. This could work, with two provisos:

- the partnership will cost more than a single autonomo to run thus taking away some of the tax savings from increased use of allowances and less higher rate tax. Primarily this is because both husband and wife will have to sign up for autonomo social security ( see Autonomo Guide) and also because there is more reporting to do. While a Sociedad Civil only has to submit one IVA declaration, each of the partners has to do quarterly income tax returns.

- the partnership has to be legitimate or at least not demonstrably illegitimate. For example if a lawyer sets up a partnership to practice law with his wife, who is not a lawyer, then that would clearly not be acceptable. If, on the other hand, the couple is doing an activity which both could plausibly be contributing to then setting up a Sociedad Civil is a perfectly acceptable route to follow. But the tax savings would have to be considerable to make it worthwhile which is probably why it is still quite rare.
New guide on our website - Spanish non resident taxes

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Will Spanish business ever get the internet?

Anyone who has ever lived in Spain (or owned property there, or done business there, or even been on holiday there) will know that generally levels of customer service leave much to be desired. During my family's 8 years in Spain we have had all sorts of problems with all kinds of private sector organisation from the local shops to nation-wide corporations. Not only can service be slow and erratic but outright deception seems to be a common and accepted tactic among those employed to deal with the public.

This is hardly news but I would just like to comment another twist to this sorry record of bad service - the 'net hasn't changed much. On the surface of things Spanish business seems to have embraced the internet, not to the extent of the US or Northern Europe, but at least most reasonable sized businesses have a web presence and offer some options for online service. However dig below the surface, i.e. start making orders, enquiries, complaints etc online, and you will find that the same poor service culture exists online just the same as offline. Many times I have used an email for enquiries, quotes etc and not received a reply. The attitude seems to be 'out of sight, out of mind' and the online message is often. You need to get on the phone (if you can get a response there) or go down to see someone face to face.

As an example I needed 4 new tires for our car and decided to save money by getting a deal online (my local tire changing garage charges at least twice as much as they should). There are a lot of options once you do a search and I got what looked like a good deal from and all seemed well on the surface with automated payment, email confirmation etc I then arranged a garage to do the fitting again finding one with a website and all the trappings of modern service and communications. Without boring you with the details needless to say I soon got bogged down in a host of problems and it has taken me 2 weeks of chasing, unreturned phone calls and broken promises to get the job done.

Advoco has written before about how Spain can lift its economy out of recession and focused on a better deal for autonomos and employers. Maybe businesses need to start getting serious about service culture. It can be changed. Pre-Thatcher Britain used to be equally rubbish but now I would say most businesses are good on service because they have to be. Even in Spain I have noticed that Telefonica (or is it Movistar) seemed to have improved their previously appalling customer service record of late.

Related article at - 30 ways to market your business in Spain

Friday, August 6, 2010

Latest Costa murder was made in England

A 40 year-old Irishman was shot dead outside Coco's Bar in Benalmadena on Wednesday and police are seeking fugitive Darren O'Flaherty (pictured) in connection with the murder. If it was this guy then there should be some heads hanging in shame in Britain right now. Specifically I would like to hear from the judge who let him out on bail in 2006, despite the fact that he was facing charges of robbery and kidnap at knifepoint. He subsequently jumped bail and fled to Spain. Heaven only knows what hideous things he's been doing between then and the murder.

Perhaps you think the judge was being reasonable to let O'Flaherty walk free while the knife case was prepared? Innocent until proven guilty and all that. Then gain maybe not when you consider his previous history:

- 1995. Liverpool. Stabbed a man 9 times and given 5 years in prison. Let out early.
- 1999. Inflicted serious head injuries on a police officer and sent to prison again.
- 2006 - held a lorry driver at knifepoint for several hours before robbing and setting fire to the lorry

In amongst all this, also charged with dangerous driving "with intent" (!) and gang membership. Quite clearly someone who was dangerous and had no intention of mending their ways. What does it take for the courts to actually take someone off the streets? Once arrested for the kidnap case that should have been it for this guy - never see the light of day again. I can accept people being given one chance but not a string of them.

It reminds me of the Tony King "Costa Killer" case when a London man was finally arrested for killing two girls. He had a past in England involving 5 serious violent sexual assaults for which he served only half his sentence (5 years) before going onto rob a woman at gunpoint. Naturally he was turned lose again and fled to Spain where he changed his name. Now two young girls are dead because he wasn't stopped.
Almost every time there is a murder or serous assault in the news, a similar story emerges. They have committed a string of offences and either been let out early or on bail thus reinforcing their contempt for the criminal justice system. The guy shot dead on Wednesday would be alive today if some English judge had had the nouse or the guts to recognise this piece of scum for what he was and put public protection as the top priority.

OctoFinder Blog and ping Spanish Insight - Blogged