Why old age now doesn’t start until 76

The days of feeling over the hill at 50, 60 or even 70 are long gone. For old age now doesn’t begin until you’re 76, suggests research undertaken by Argos.

Today’s typical over-50 feels at least four years younger than their actual age – while 25% feel ten years younger thanks to improved healthcare over the last few decades. With better health, diet and more exercise, this improved lifestyle has contributed markedly to a fitter older generation, according to the survey.

Almost a third said they worried about one day needing help to get around, while 12% did not want to face a time when they could no longer exercise.

Argos spokesperson Amy Whidburn said: ‘In the past, if you were over 50 you were over the hill but the latest findings reveal that for a significant number, life begins at 76. ‘More people than ever want to stay healthy and fit for as long as possible so they are active and taking steps to look after themselves.’

It’s small wonder that many approaching retirement in the UK are considering making a move to the sun, where they can enjoy a more affordable lifestyle and wonderful weather compared to the doom and gloom back in the UK.

Magic Card Trick

A CARD TRICK
The introduction of capital controls in Greece brought about massive growth in the use of credit and debit cards at supermarkets. In June 2015 the rate of card usage at the stores of major supermarket chains stood at around 7%, while in smaller retail outlets it was below 1%. This has now soared to over 30% and 7.5% respectively.

One in two consumers now says that Since the government imposed capital controls in June 50% of consumers say they mostly use cards to pay at supermarkets. However this growth has impacted upon supermarkets, increasing their costs by 40 million per annum, due to the high commissions they have to pay to banks.

Recognising this, there has been a European Union directive to Greek banks to reduce the commission they charge retailers of around 1.5%, to that charged in other EU countries of around 30 cents for credit cards and 20 cents for debit cards.

CHANGING A CASH CULTURE

Previously every Greek tax payer had to provide receipts of living expenses – such as supermarket, petrol etc. – amounting to 10% of their declared income, in order to claim a 2,100 euros tax exemption. However, the government has now announced the abolition of tax statement entry number 049, where expenditure receipts are no longer required.

As from January 1st 2016, all Greek tax payers who now wish to claim the tax exemption up to 2,100 euros will need to show they have made purchases of 9,545 euros with their debit or credit card.

New tax laws now charge the banks at the end of each financial year with responsibility for automatically providing the tax authorities with customer statements from their bank accounts.

However, it is not yet clear whether purchases may be made using a single credit, or debit card and bank account which has been declared on the Greek online tax platform.

Taxpayers who declare less than 9,545 euros income will also be obliged to declare expenditure made with their cards to at least their income amount!

Specifically, every employee and pensioner with income below this threshold will have to pay with credit card, debit card or via e-banking transfers equal to their income, whereas those who earn more than 9,545 euros, must ensure their expenses will amount to the 9,545 threshold.

Anyone who doesn’t conduct their transactions with cards will likely lose their tax discount, unless the ministry decides to grant exceptions for those who are unable to use cards, such as elderly people living in remote areas.

TIGHTER COMPANY CONTROLS

Running a business in Greece is fraught with so many bureaucratic problems you wonder why anybody bothers.

Businesses, in 2016 will be forced to have a single company bank account where all sales gained from selling products or providing services will be paid for by customers paying their invoices using cards or by e-banking.

Businesses will not be allowed to withdraw money in cash, but only be able to spend it through using a card, or by e-banking, thus recording all payments related to the business activities.

Furthermore, company cash registers are due to be linked up directly with the ministry’s Taxisnet online system starting on January 1, with the aim of having them all linked to businesses by the end of 2016.

These somewhat punitive measures are designed to provide the Greek tax authority with a much stronger system to reduce the wide level of tax evasion which has dogged the country for years.

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Two thirds of Brits won’t receive new full rate pension

Live in Crete and whatever pension you have, it will buy you a far higher standard of living than you could possibly enjoy in the UK

It has emerged that two in every three people who reach retirement age next year will receive less than the full ‘flat-rate’ state pension. Many people in their late fifties and early sixties had expected a larger payment of around £148 a week under major reforms to the state pension, up from the current £116 “basic” payment today.

The UK Government has repeatedly insisted the vast majority of people reaching state pension age next year will earn at least the new flat-rate amount. However, newly-published official figures show a majority will find their own savings have been included in these calculations.

This was revealed in a written statement to the House of Lords, by pensions minister Ros Altmann disclosing just 37% of people would receive “the full amount of new state pension directly from the state” in the first year of the reforms. The remainder would be coming from a “private pension.” This disclosure resulted in the government publishing a document online saying many people paid lower National Insurance contributions during their careers – a perk of the old pension system – and these payments would be taken into account under the new scheme. Civil servants are now preparing to send letters to thousands of people approaching retirement to break news of the deductions and offer an explanation.

Originally the government heralded the new system as being a more generous simpler flat rate state pension for millions of new pensioners. Going forward, none of these claims would appear to be true at least in the short term.

Most people who reach state pension age within the next two decades have paid lower National Insurance “at some point”, and since the seventies people have been able to opt for lower payments by ‘contracting out’ of the additional state pension. which is an earnings-related top-up to the basic £116 a week.

As a condition of opting out of the top-ups, workers were required to accrue a private pension. Sometimes their National Insurance rebates were paid directly into their private funds; in other cases, people were expected to invest the spare money themselves.

The Government will make a complex calculation working out how much someone has managed to build up in private savings from their National Insurance rebates. A deduction from the £148 flat-rate will then be made, reducing the state’s direct payout. However, people who would have qualified for a larger payment under the old state pension system will keep their entitlements.

It is estimated the number of people who receive the full flat-rate amount from the state will rise to half in 2020 and then 84% by 2035. Those people reaching state pension age in 2016-17 should receive the full rate of the new state pension – but only if they also include the amount of additional state pension they opted out of, or were opted out of, when originally contracted out.”

How’s that? Clear as mud?

Then again, whatever pension you receive, you’ll have to use it to live on in the UK. Then again you could stretch it by moving to Crete where you will enjoy a far higher standard of living than you could ever afford in the doom and gloom of the UK – and what’s more, the weather is far, far better too!

Getting connected in Crete

Staying connected to others is important when living overseas – whether this is being an active part of your local community, staying in touch with relatives and friends in other countries, or a combination of the two. Community is an important part of life on Crete, so whether you want to get to know and keep up with other expats, or immerse yourself in local life, there are a number of ways you can get involved.

If you have moved to Crete from the UK, or are spending a considerable length of time here throughout the year, you will also want to ensure you are in regular communication with your friends and family back in Britain.

There are so many different ways to communicate across countries nowadays – the world seems to be getting smaller and smaller. Here are our top tips for getting and staying connected – both locally and further afield.
Make use of the Internet

Social networks
There are many online opportunities to communicate, keeping you in touch with people both near and far. The different social networks available, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even LinkedIn for business matters, are a great way to keep up to date with your social circle, loved ones, and business networks.

Video calls
Video call technology, such as Skype and FaceTime, allows you to speak to people face to face, meaning that you can be in touch with the people that matter to you at the touch of a button, or click of a mouse – as long as you have an Internet connection, this is for free, or at very little cost. However, it’s important to ensure you have everything set up so you can make the most of these communications opportunities, so you need to assess the different services available to you in Crete for mobile, telephone and Internet access, and establish which one best suits your needs.

Finding the right telephone and Internet deals

It’s up to you whether you feel you need a landline telephone as well as a mobile phone. For both services, it’s important to compare the different telephone deals available to find the right tariff to suit your usage, and look out for international calling offers, to save money on those long distance calls.

There are some packages available that combine a landline telephone and broadband, offering off-peak international calls, however, you need to be aware of the full terms and conditions and ensure you know exactly what is included in the offer, to avoid running up big international telephone bills.

You will need to bear in mind that it is expensive to run a UK mobile in Crete, and 4G is not widely available, although there is a variable 3G connection in most popular tourist areas. When you first arrive in Crete, you may want to look for a pay as you go mobile package –Cosmote and Vodafone both offer a range of shorter-term mobile packages and have English pages where you can look at the different options available. You can also make use of local amenities while you’re getting settled – most hotels and tourist destinations offer free WiFi, so you can at least get online to get yourself connected for the longer-term.

The two main Internet providers in Crete are Forthnet and Otenet, offering similar rates to those in the UK.

If you do not have access to a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, head for your nearest Internet café. There are still some in Crete, although they are of course becoming less and less popular as people buy smart devices.

If you are moving permanently to Crete longer and want to install a fixed line, you will need to check if your area is covered, as it is not available across the whole island. Most cities are fine, but you may have trouble in more rural areas. You will also find that the quality of the Internet connection varies from region to region. It’s worth asking people you know in the local area and those who have moved to Crete before for their knowledge of the connectivity in your chosen region and the different packages available. Also, research online for various coverage and tariffs.

Keep up to date with local and international news

Keep up to date with the latest news locally and across the island – publications are available widely, both online and in print. Use the Internet to stay in touch with current news worldwide – this will be cheaper than buying international publications that have been imported to Crete. Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook are also a good source of news and views on international affairs, as well as providing a hub for people and businesses based locally. You can create or join groups for different interests, participate in online chats and ‘Tweet-ups’, where people get together online to discuss particular topics, meet others in a virtual environment, or promote their businesses.

Knowing the local community

When you first move to or buy a property on Crete, it really is worth making the effort to get to know the local area and to connect with the local community. Initially, your estate agent may also be able to help you connect with other expats and the wider community, as well as recommending local businesses and suppliers.

Visit your local shops and markets and get talking to other expats and locals; and explore any societies that may be of interest to you – for example, local historical, animal or wildlife associations, walking clubs, fitness centres, expat clubs, or local places of worship. Look for opportunities to volunteer – perhaps at a local charity, animal sanctuary or hospital?

If you have moved to Crete to work, get to know your colleagues and explore the different social activities offered by your workplace. If they don’t offer any, why not take the leap and set up your own? It will give you a focus and is a great way to get to know people and make new friends.

Avoid postal delays and difficulties – buy gifts online

Posting internationally can be expensive and time-consuming, although services from Crete are pretty good. There are post offices in all the main cities and towns in Crete, offering European postage of 2-4 days. There is a registered mail service available, which means you can track that the item gets to the intended recipient, and this, as in the UK, is often a quicker service.

When buying gifts for friends or family in the UK, look at opportunities to buy online with international shipping options, which often include gift-wrapping services. You can send greetings cards online, too, using UK-based companies such as Moonpig – as these are sent from the UK, with signed-for and express services on offer, you can save time and guarantee that the recipient gets the card on or before their special day.

Healthcare in Crete

Even when living somewhere as idyllic as Crete, your health is still an important concern. When you move to another country, you need to consider all your current and potential healthcare needs, to provide quality of life in your sunny new home.

There are a number of different options available to you when it comes to Greek healthcare, so it is important to understand how the healthcare system works and how you can get cover and treatment to suit your needs, such as the name and location of your GP, how you can make appointments with the doctor, where the closest hospital is to you, and the important numbers to call in and emergency.

It is also worth considering whether you will benefit from private healthcare, in order to ensure all your needs are covered, or if you will be adequately provided for by the national healthcare services available. Here we look at the different services that may be available to you on Crete from both state and private healthcare providers, and cover some of the key information you will need to know in the event of an emergency.

National healthcare
In Crete, national healthcare is provided through ESY, the national health insurance provided by the National Healthcare Service.

To qualify for healthcare, you need to register with the Greek authorities for a Social Insurance Number (AMKA), essential to get medical care, to be able to work, to get insurance, and to receive all state benefits.

If you are working in Crete, making National Insurance contributions, you are automatically entitled to state-run healthcare, but must register with the Greek National Organisation for Healthcare Services Provision (EOPYY).

If you need to see a doctor, they should be contracted by the EOPYY. Qualifying residents under this system usually receive free or reduced-cost treatment. You can be treated in a Crete hospital free of charge if you have been referred by an EOPYY and medicines prescribed by an EOPYY doctor are dispensable at any pharmacy. You usually have to pay up to 25% of the overall cost of prescriptions. It is useful to note that in Crete, and across Greece, you must collect your prescription within five working days of it being issued otherwise it will be invalid.

Only limited dental care is available under the state service. However, there are many good private dentists on the island.

The national health services available throughout Greece have been affected by the austerity measures that have been in place in recent years. Unemployed Greek nationals can now only receive benefits for a maximum of one year, then must pay for their own treatment. Working citizens are now also required to contribute more towards the cost of their medication and prescriptions.

Emergencies

In the event of an emergency, the Accident and Emergency Department (ΕΠΕΙΓΟΝΤΑ) at your local hospital should be your first port of call. Emergency treatment in Crete is usually good, with short waiting times.

Doctors invariably speak at some English, which is reassuring if you’ve had an accident or are unwell. You will need to show them your health card or private health insurance details in order to receive treatment. Some tests, such as x-rays, incur a small additional fee. Emergency public ambulance services to state hospitals are free.

If you have a medical emergency on Crete, dial 112.

Other important numbers:
166 – Ambulance services
100 – Police
171 – Tourist police
199 – Fire department
108 – Coastguard
1016 – SOS Doctors

You may come across doctors and health professionals that don’t speak English in Crete – it’s so important for you to be able to communicate about your health, so do try to learn a few key healthcare phrases to make yourself understood. If you organise private healthcare, the medical professionals are more likely to speak and understand English, but if you are dealing with an injury or illness which is particularly stressful, then understanding exactly what is going on will be critical.

SOS DOCTORS is a Greek organisation that provides freelance medical professionals and specialists for 24-hour in-home medical services, in the event of an emergency.

State hospitals
In Greek state hospitals, culturally it’s family and friends who provide personal care for patients, rather than nurses, so it is worth bearing this in mind when considering your private healthcare options. Greek hospitals tend to have longer visiting hours than in the UK, and so they can be busier and noisier than you might expect – another factor to consider when looking into private healthcare cover. Often this will provide a private room and additional facilities not available in state hospitals.

Private healthcare

As an expat, private medical insurance, while not necessarily cheap, does give you access to a private hospital in an emergency thus offering peace of mind. Private healthcare is less affected by the economic situation. Even in some of the smallest towns offer private doctors and other healthcare professionals who will speak English.

The main towns and tourist areas often have several private healthcare clinics and hospitals equipped with up to date modern technology and facilities. Invariably you’ll have a private room with a TV and telephone. Of course, these private clinics are particularly expensive unless you have adequate private healthcare provision.

You do not usually need to make an appointment to see a private doctor – the format is to attend the private surgery during normal opening hours, wait to be seen, and pay for your private consultation, which is normally 30 – 50 euros.

The right health insurance
There are a number of insurance companies in both Greece and in the UK that can offer you a range of private medical policies to cover your life in Crete. It’s really important to do your homework here: shop around with different providers and pay careful attention to the different policies to see what is and isn’t included; assess the various costs and how they compare to your budget; then match everything to your particular needs and circumstances.

The case for Greece: when it forgave Germany’s debt

Forgiving debt, if done right, can get an economy back on its feet. The IMF certainly thinks so, according to a new report in which it argues Greece should get help. But Germany, another major creditor to Greece, is resisting, even though it knows better than most what debt relief can achieve. After the hell of World War II, the Federal Republic of Germany — commonly known as West Germany — got massive help with its debt from former foes.
Which country was among its creditors then? Greece.

The 1953 agreement, in which Greece and about 20 other countries effectively wrote off a large chunk of Germany’s loans and restructured the rest, is a landmark case that shows how effective debt relief can be. It helped spark what became known as the German economic miracle.

So it’s perhaps ironic that Germany is now among the countries resisting Greece’s requests for debt relief.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis claims debt relief is the key issue that held up a deal with creditors last week and says he’d rather cut off his arm than sign anything that doesn’t tackle the country’s borrowings.

The IMF backed the call to make Greece’s debt manageable with a wide-ranging report – but also blames the Greek government for being slow with reforms.
Despite years of budget cuts, Greece’s debt burden is higher than when its bailout began in 2010 — over 300 billion euros, or 180% of annual GDP — due to the economy having shrunk by more than 25%.

Here’s a look at when Germany got debt relief, and if such action might help Greece.

The 1953′s London Agreement was generous to West Germany. It cut the amount owed, extended the repayment schedule and granted low interest rates. Crucially, it linked West Germany’s debt repayment schedule to its ability to pay — tying repayments to the trade surplus it was running and expected to run. That created an incentive for trading partners to buy German goods.

The German debt forgiveness was driven by the United States, which pressed others to get a deal — British creditors gave up two-thirds of what they were owed. It wasn’t charity. The U.S needed a strong West Germany as an ally against the perceived threat of the Soviet Union.

“The London Agreement gave Germany sweeping debt forgiveness and protection from creditors, in exchange for pro-market reforms,” said Professor Albrecht Ritschl of the London School of Economics. West Germany was able to borrow on international markets again, and, free of onerous debt payments, saw its economy grow strongly. Development activists cite that case when arguing for easier terms for troubled countries today.

“The same opportunity given to Germany in 1953 should be given to Greece now,” said Eric LeCompte, executive director of debt relief organization Jubilee USA.
Greece has had some relief. Private sector bondholders lost 53% of face value in a 2012 restructuring, and remaining debts have been stretched out.
Now most of Greece’s debt is owed to bailout creditors. While they, notably the IMF, have indicated that the debt load should be made more manageable, little has been done of late.

There are echoes from the German case that are relevant to Greece today.

The deal to help Germany was based on a realistic way for the country to pay its debts — Greece’s Varoufakis has suggested debt repayments be linked to growth. Over the bailout years, Greece has had to meet debt commitments even though its economy was in a depression.

CHANGES AHEAD?

One of the reasons why relations between Greece and European creditors deteriorated is the disagreement over what to do about the country’s debts. It’s difficult for anyone, especially those that have endured austerity too, to accept a lower return. But there are signs of a positive movement. Cyprus has said it could consider writing off 330 million euros in rescue loans to Greece. The U.S., while not directly involved, is also consistently advocating debt relief.

The IMF have now come out most forcefully, arguing in a report that Greece needs large-scale debt relief alongside more than 60 billion euros in financing between June 2015 and the end of 2018. Given the recent economic shock related to the capital controls and the referendum uncertainty, Greece’s needs will likely be significantly higher, the IMF said. It blamed the current Greek government for being slow on reforms and privatizations, but said it was clear the debt needed to be made more manageable. One option the IMF mentioned was doubling the grace period on Greece’s loans from EU countries to 20 years and the subsequent repayment period to 40.

Politics aside, Greece needs breathing space to establish a strategy of reform and growth. Hopefully its creditors will allow this.

A bank with a heart – a Greek one

The UK media points the finger at Greece and makes fun, but the enforced austerity measures have brought many Greeks to their knees, unable to scratch a living and support themselves. Unlike British banks who will go to any lengths – legal or otherwise – to extract blood from their customers, Piraeus Bank has taken the remarkable step of reaching out and giving a helping hand to those in financial distress.

Help will be given to those who have an annual personal income not exceeding 2,400 euros, or 3,600 euros for a couple, plus 600 euros per child and 1,200 euros per dependent adult family member. In addition the total taxable value of their properties must not exceed 90,000 euros per person; and any bank deposits should not be more than twice the annual income declared by applicants.

Piraeus officials say it is not yet possible to precisely determine the number of beneficiaries, but given that government figures estimate 180,000 households and as many as 150,000 people fall within these criteria it is estimated that at least 50,000 people could benefit from Piraeus’s move.

The bank has decided to write off debts of up to 20,000 euros stemming from consumer loans and credit cards for qualifying customers, and will also freeze debts from outstanding mortgages.

With regard to loans, the debt write-off will be total, including not only interest but also the original capital, provided the sum is no more than 20,000 euros. If a debt is above that limit in total, the write-off will only concern the first 20,000 euros (e.g. if the total is 50,000 euros, the debt will shrink to 30,000 euros).

With mortgages, the write-off will only concern the interest imposed for as long as the loan remains frozen, which will apply up to the end of this year. Piraeus has created a balloon-type product for all borrowers which allows them to freeze between 40% and 60% of their debt from mortgage loans for 15 to 25 years, while the part of the debt that is frozen will not be charged any interest. This program will be combined with an assessment of the income and property of every borrower.

The NHS – are you in or are you out?

Faced with losing £500 million a year from visitors who needed healthcare while in England, the NHS is rectifying matters. As of this month, the system of charging is being changed and not only will this affect migrants and visitors, but also former residents of the UK as well.

The crucial criteria to qualify for free NHS treatment within the UK is based on someone being ‘ordinarily resident’.

Note that. It is NOT dependent upon nationality, whether you pay income tax in the UK, or national insurance contributions, or the fact that you are still registered with a GP, or having an NHS number, or owning property in the UK.

These changes, which come into effect from April, will affect visitors and former UK residents differently, depending on where they now live.

However, treatment in A&E departments and at GP surgeries will remain free for all.

People living in an EEA country

As is the case already, most people, who live or work in another EEA country, or Switzerland, will continue to get free NHS care using a European Health Insurance Card – EHIC – issued by the country they live in. This means the NHS can reclaim healthcare costs from the original country of residence.

UK state pensioners who live elsewhere in the EEA will now have the same rights to NHS care as people who live in England. This applies to all pensioners who receive a UK state retirement pension and registered for healthcare in Europe with an S1 form.

However, people who live in the EEA or Switzerland, are not working, and are under the UK retirement age should either use their EHIC, if they’re entitled to one, or take out health insurance if they need NHS care when visiting England. Anyone who does not have insurance will be charged at 150% of the NHS national tariff for any care they receive. This includes former UK residents, and ensures that people who already live and work in the UK do not end up paying through their taxes for the healthcare of visitors.

Returning to the UK to settle

Citizens who return to the UK on a settled basis will be classed as ordinarily resident, and will be eligible for free NHS care
immediately.

The Drama of Greek Tax

Centuries of a nation’s intrinsic culture shaped over time cannot just be changed overnight. Take the United Kingdom. Two hundred years ago we owned or ruled most of the world. Hence the name Great Britain. What are we today? A small island punching way above its weight, but the culture instilled within us still gives us an arrogance and a disdain for Johnny foreigners as if we still ruled the world – when we don’t.

Now take Greece. For 400 years the country suffered terribly under agressive Turkish domination, where Greeks were belittled and belied in a culture where bribery and corruption was an accepted way of life. It was the normal way to conduct business and minimise paying tax. Now, a hundred years later, it is difficult for the country to change this embedded culture which is why bureaucracy in Greece is weighed down by its attempts to force change.

Try as it might, when it comes to tax issues, justice in Greece has been uncomfortably selective.

During the last 30 months alone the government has approved six tax legislation packages comprising 177 articles and 17 laws – including 71 new tax measures. This was accompanied by 111 ministerial decisions and 138 clarifying circulars.

This is not a sign of positive change but further proof of the tax system’s resistance to modernisation, preferring to be wrapped in a bureaucratic security blanket. Since 1975 there have been 250 tax laws and amendments, along with another related 3,450 laws and 115,000 related ministerial decisions.These are a dizzying number of laws, despite which the number of unpaid tax debts are rising by billions. While Greek legislative productivity is to be admired, just consider the veritable bureuacratic stagnation demonstrated by the United States, where only 10 tax laws have been voted in the last 250 years.

In Greece each tax amendment opens a back door and each interpretive circular a back window. The result of this ensures less taxable cash reaching public coffers compared to cash flowing out of the country in search of Switzerland’s greener pastures or nest-eggs of ‘black money’ hidden under mattresses at home for emergencies.

While there are many factors which contributed to Greece’s financial collapse tax evasion and tax dodging are among the most serious. This was confirmed by a report compiled by the IMF and the EC regarding Greece’s tax administrative system, which concluded that the state actually operates as a protector of tax evasion.

When it comes to achieving an efficient tax collecting system, Greece was judged against eight criteria, and awarded these poor marks:-

Possible 2
Possible/unlikely 1
Unlikely 3
Unlikely/zero 2
Certain 0

If the new government doesn’t succeed in making the impossible, possible, it won’t be able to blame the IMF or the EC, only itself.

The culture of tax avoidance runs deep within Greek society; tax authorities are not only understaffed but immersed in the logic of book-checking when the real problem lies off the books.

In response to this the Greek government is considering hiring an army of part time amateur tax sleuths – including tourists – equipped with hidden cameras and recording devices to catch businesses dodging tax. This undercover army could go where traditional tax inspectors were unable to tread, making a ‘serious dent’ in VAT fraud that typifies nightclubs,restaurants and medical services.

There is no alternative. Greece has to change and establish an efficient and effective tax infrastructure – or live with the consequences of being judged as a banana republic.