Cafes, shops and taxis around Athens are handing out receipts by the thousands to customers frantically stuffing their pockets with proof of payment as a result of a government announcement in December that they will be required to claim a standard income tax-free allowance that was previously granted automatically.
“People demand receipts like never before,” said Yiannis Lazos, 40, who runs a clothes shop in central Athens. “I can see it in their eyes, they think: ‘I want my money back, I want to be taxed less.”
The Papandreou government hopes the need to present evidence in the form of receipts will help fight endemic tax evasion.
The aim is to use taxpayers to overcome Greece’s black economy by making them demand legal proof of payment.
No one knows quite how, or indeed whether, the new system will work, since the government has yet to announce the details.
Accountants say the idea will merely add another layer of red tape in a country drowning in bureaucracy.
But taxpayers are taking no chances and stocking up on receipts, just in case.
Tax evasion is endemic according to Yanis Varoufakis, professor of economics at the University of Athens.
“The only way to get around that is to provide financial incentives for customers to want to pay VAT, to give them something in return.”
Under the new rules, wage earners and pensioners will need to declare receipts to the tax-man to keep benefiting from a personal tax-free allowance, currently set at 12,000 euros.
“If it works, I’ll be glad. But tell me, do they really expect to find the money through our receipts?” asked 52-year-old supermarket employee Aristea Michalopoulou.
Others were even more skeptical. “This plan is ridiculous; for big problems, you need big measures,” said a financial adviser who asked not to be named because of his profession.
Opinion polls show most Greeks are willing to pay a price to help the country out of the financial crisis, if austerity measures are perceived as fair.
Analysts say that in a country with a history of social unrest, the Greek Government must act quickly before the window of opportunity slams shut.
“If the government taps into that mood, it has a chance of succeeding. No guarantees. Just a chance,” said Varoufakis.