Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is personal view of Spain and Spanish life as seen by a Briton living in a small village in Alicante province.
The other tabs link to similar blogs when I have lived in other places. The TIM magazine is an English language magazine I write articles for.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Excuse me, what am I paying for?

The majority of the local taxes in Alicante are collected by an agency called SUMA. So the water bills, the rubbish collection, car road tax and the equivalent of the council tax all come from SUMA despite actually being set by the local Town Hall in Pinoso.

SUMA, in my experience, is an efficient organisation. I pay most of my bills by "direct debit" and SUMA's notifications always come a couple of weeks before the due date reminding me to check that I have sufficient funds in the bank etc. So unlike the banks, phone company and electric people who just take the money on random dates often without notification (though to be fair the phone and electric people have improved recently) SUMA do it the correct way.

So the other week a notification arrives that says that there has been a bit of a cock up on their part and that for some tax period they have either made an error in or forgotten a charge relating to sewerage and sewage charges. The language is the archaic stuff of official documentation and there is no date set on which they intend to take the payment (only 42€) though there is a section which tells me my rights should I wish to challenge this ruling. My guess is that this is notification that there will be a charge and that shortly they will send an actual bill.

Now we got new drains in Culebrón a while ago but ours was one of the six houses that was left out of the scheme. I could see a link, new service, new charge. So I wrote an email to them asking what the charge was and whether it applied to us as we don't have any drains. Their reply came back in a couple of days (another good sign, most Spanish organisations don't respond to email) though it offered no explanation except to tell me the official routes for lodging a complaint. Those routes include going into an office, using their virtual office (which requires an electronic signature) or sending the official form which has to be validated in a post office before the envelope is sealed.

I have two forms of electronic signature on my computer but neither of them will get me past their gate-keeping. Going to an office is a bit tricky as their working day and mine don't mesh and sending an official complaint by post seems a bit drastic. All I really want to know is what I'm paying for and whether it's a one off charge or an annual increase.

I've just spent an hour or so writing the few lines in Spanish (checking and rechecking grammar and phraseology takes me ages) to try to explain what I'm after, saying that I'm not after any sort of privileged information so we don't need the secure measures that they are asking for etc.

This could be the real test as to whether SUMA really is more human and one notch easier to deal with than the majority of Spanish bureaucracies. It would be so nice if they just did the decent thing and replied with a nice simple explanation in everyday language. Somehow though I doubt that will be the case.

Monday update: Not only have they replied (well done boys!)) but they've also said it's probably a mistake and I should appeal the decision as it's a recurring payment.

1 comment:

Rob Innis said...

Hey Chris - well done. Like you I think SUMA is one of the better setups and quite customer friendly. I know you like to do business in Spanish but they do promote a number for those preferring to speak English - 965 148 561 but the hours are a bit restricted.