How much poorer am I now?

So on the day of the government press conference, one of the lads in work jokingly asked if I would be making an update to to show the changes announced.  He even suggested a domain for a single serving site – Since I’d nothing better to do, I decided I throw something together.

Going about creating it

To get the 2010 breakdown, I converted the class written for the app from Objective-C to PHP.  This was pretty trivial and helped me refamiliarise myself  with the current tax system.  It also gave me a chance to look at updating the calculator for the 2011 budget.

Rather than flood people with options all the options of the app, I decided just to give two choices for personal circumstances – single and married with 1 income.    The only tax relief I was interested in were rent, union subs (because these two were going completely) and pension (because of the large changes).

A trivial form, some if loops and and ignoring user input validation I had a crude calculator knocked together that made some sweeping assumptions about the changes in the upcoming budget.

Initially, I was only concentrating on how much worse off you’d be in 2011.  Based on some feedback from twitter, I changed things so it included some of the extra charges (increased registration fees and the site tax) as well as predicting the pain over the next 4 years.

To make things work, I had to do a bit of hand waving and educated guesses.  The press conference was light on actual details and none of the article in the paper were much help.  The Times supplement gave me the most information but I still had to make plenty of assumptions.

My assumptions

  • PRSI, income levy and tax rate (i.e. the 20% and 41% rates) stay the same for the 4 years
  • Rent and union sub relief is completely removed in the 2011 budget
  • Tax credits (i.e. how much you earn tax free) drops by 66% in 2011, 14% in 2012, 10% in 2013, 10% in 2014
  • The cutoff point (i.e. above which you pay 41%) drops a total of €6000 in increments 66% in 2011, 14% in 2012, 10% in 2013, 10% in 2014 (this was the only way I could figure out how someone on €55K would drop by €1860 by 2014)
  • The drops in credits and cutoff are based on how much the government plans to get from the changes in income tax over the next few years
  • If you’re married, you’ve only 1 income
  • College ‘registration’ fees will not rise again
  • Site tax does not rise in 2013 or 2014

Lessons Learned

1. A surprising number of people will enter a number with a comma (e.g. 25,000 as opposed to 25000).  Since I was expecting an integer and the string was URLencoded this resulted in no net change for the user as the gross was interpreted as 0.  A lot of people were confused by that so it was the first fix.  I’m guessing it’s because the number involved pay and people are used to seeing the number with a comma.

2. Just because it’s a throwaway site doesn’t mean people won’t check if the HTML validates.  When people said this to me at first I thought they meant validating inputs.  It didn’t take much to sort out (the damned tweet and share buttons were the most awkward fixes).  Next time I’ll be validating before showing it to anyone.

3. People on the internets are lovely.  I don’t do prettty, I make things work.  Hence the site was black and white with a plain old H3 tag and some centering.  A couple of hours after it started spreading around, I got an offer for some CSS from Stephanie Francis, which I jumped on.  Now the site looks like some care and attention was poured on it!

4. People need examples.  There was much confusion over why someone on €500K was no worse off than someone on €50K.  People seems to miss out on the fact that higher earners are being hit by reducing the tax efficiencies they can use for tax avoidance.  So the change in the pension relief will hit them hard.

5. People don’t read credits but those credited with the work are happy to point out the right person.  A couple of people who saw the link on twitter asked the person sharing it if the site was accurate or why they had a problem.  The asker was quickly put right and directed to me.  Which was nice.

6. Simple pages that are just a web form are now web apps.  It goes to show how much the concept of apps has taken hold that people don’t see a difference between a single serving site and an app for a phone.

What next?

Well once the budget is out on the 7th of December I’ll be able to update the details for at least 2011 and possible the following 3 years.  This will obviously make the figures more accurate (and probably more depressing).  They’ll still be a little off for some people as I won’t be including every relief and benefit, but they should be a good indication.

I’ll also be able to include things like changes to child benefit and other social welfare payments.  This should bring home how much the average family will be hit over the next few years.

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