ANGRY Britons in a Paphos village who are paying up to five times as much in council tax as their mostly Cypriot neighbours are taking their case to Europe.
And British candidates in next month’s municipal elections in Kouklia have made the fight against what they say is blatant – and costly – discrimination a major part of their election campaign.
Ray Smith, one of four British candidates standing in the elections as part of the Kouklia Independent Coalition, has been directly affected by what he views as the two-tier community charges.
“I have a friend who lives in Kouklia village in a reasonably large house. He paid €160 last year whilst I was charged €850 for a three bedroom apartment in Aphrodite Hills,” said the 64-year-old retired expat who has lived in Aphrodite Hills since 2005.
Aphrodite Hills and Ha Potami (Secret Valley) both come under the jurisdiction of Kouklia community council. Around 90 per cent of homeowners in both areas are British; the remainder is mostly Dutch, Scandinavian and Cypriots.
“At the beginning of 2010 the responsibility of the services, such as street cleaning and so on, were transferred from the developer to Kouklia community council. And we were then sent a demand by the community board to pay a huge amount of council tax,” said Smith.
He is a member of an association representing 130 home owners who have complained to both the Cyprus ombudswoman and her European counterpart with the aim of getting justice.
Their cause received a boost earlier this week when the ombudswoman referred to such complaints in her annual report. (See Community taxes discriminatory to foreigners?)
“Although it was not possible to establish a direct discrimination against the complainants from the evidence set before the Commissioner, she, however, concluded that there is a prima facie issue of a possible indirect (covert) discrimination against them on the grounds of nationality/citizenship,” the report said.
The report went on to urge community councils to review the way they impose council taxes to insure they do not “involve a difficult or disadvantaged treatment of EU nationals residing in communities”.
The current mukhtar of Kouklia, Christakis Miltiadous – who is standing for re-election – denies there is any discrimination against the expat community.
“The community tax charged in Kouklia is based according to the site of the property and the services provided. There is no discrimination against any resident in Kouklia,” he said.
The village leader explained that the area is separated into three and it is impossible to levy the same amount of community tax for a house built on a 200m2 plot in the village centre, compared to one constructed on a 1,340 m2 in Ha Potami or Aphrodite Hills.
He admitted that homeowners pay more in Ha Potami and Aphrodite Hills, but said this was because those areas have more services and it’s a different living environment.
“But Cypriots living in these areas are charged the same as the British and other nationalities living there,” he said.
Smith insisted this was not the case and accused the council of using different criteria for calculating tax bills for homes in Kouklia village and those in Ha Potami and Aphrodiite Hills.
“Even though charges should be capped at €850s, there are people living in villas in Aphrodite Hills paying €1,100 in council taxes. We are very angry,” said Smith.
According to Smith, the mukhtar put the higher charges down to increased staff numbers required to clean the area.
“There is a separate budget for Aphrodite Hills and Kouklia village and yet we are being charged the full amount to run the road sweeper, purchase fuel for council vehicles and so on. But these are also being used in Kouklia and they don’t pay for them,” Smith said. “It isn’t just.”
John Wright, 68, who is also standing as a candidate, has complained repeatedly about the tax he was expected to pay and was told the charges included street cleaning and lighting.
“Neither of these has services has been adopted by the local council in my area,” he said. “Our street is only cleaned if we do it ourselves and of the 13 cul de sacs with eight houses in each, only a couple has recently been fitted with street lights. We don’t have any fitted in our street at all.”
“It’s not correct to say that the streets aren’t cleaned. All of the streets in the area of Kouklia are cleaned and kept tidy,” Miltiadous said.
Wright also rejected the council’s claim that Cypriots living in Ha Potami and Aphrodite Hills pay the same in tax as non-Cypriots.
“There is a massive detached villa in Secret Valley which is estimated to be worth around €6.5 million and yet the Cypriot owner is only paying €75 in council tax,” he said. “I have a regular three bedroom villa of 150m2, which is in a cul de sac, and last year I was originally charged €530.” Following a meeting with the community leader, Wright’s bill was reduced by €100.
Complaints to the district officer – who examines whether local taxes are correct and legal – over last year’s high taxes did result in some reductions.
George Yianni, the district inspector responsible for Kouklia, conceded that he had to deal with many complaints from Kouklia last year.
“I found that as regards refuse collection in Kouklia, some people were being charged €200, whereas the law allows people only to be charged up to €170,” he said. “This is why the district office reduced the charge to €170.”
Yianni explained that in cases where homeowners had complained that the amount charged for services last year exceeded the legal capped amount of €850, they were reduced.
But for Smith and Wright most of the cuts were paltry and did little to stop the underlying discrimination.
According to Wright, the district officer decided to cut €10 off the bills for those that complained. “It was insulting,” he said.
“This year my charge has gone down slightly, to €600, but my friend is still only paying €160,” said Smith.
“We are definitely being discriminated against and whilst my Cypriot friends have sympathy for our situation, their bills are not increasing, so they’re not too bothered,” added Wright.
“We are aware that the local Cypriots have a nickname for us – ATMs [automatic cash machine],” said Smith.
Although Miltiadous urged disgruntled residents to bring up the issue with the community board after the elections, he added: “what are these people comparing the tax charges with? For something similar in England, they would be paying three times as much.”