14 August 2011

Was it always this bad? I suspect it might have been but not having to access too many government agencies in the past perhaps I just wasn’t aware of just how useless they are. On Friday I had two examples of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was up to if indeed the left hand even knew that there was a right hand.

HM Revenue and CustomsFirstly, we had a letter from HM Revenue and Customs chastising SeamStress Ltd for failing to pay the employee’s share of tax (PAYE in the UK) and insisting that we forward a small fortune immediately or face prosecution if not castration. Fortunately, SeamStress filed the necessary paper work back in April to sack all its employees and insist that they become self-employed. SeamStress Ltd. itself is about to be wound up now that the company financial year has finished (31 July). I suspect you will remember all this but unfortunately the Revenue doesn’t, in spite of having previously sent confirmation that Ms Playchute herself is now obliged to pay her National Insurance personally and that it will no longer be paid by SeamStress Ltd. This required a phone call to the Revenue’s fine offices in Glasgow where we spoke with a lovely lady with an impenetrable Scottish accent who eventually accepted what we told her. (An aside: because the company is registered in Penny’s name she must give approval for the Revenue to speak with me, which we have done three or four times in the past. Nevertheless, every time we have cause to speak with them they insist on asking Penny to come to the phone, identify herself and then authorise me to speak on her behalf. So, on Friday we were proceeding through this pantomime when the lady at the other end asked, apparently, for Penny’s son’s name. Somewhat perplexed, Penny enquired why HM Revenue and Customs needed our son’s name (and, I suppose, which son did they want the name of?). In fact, it turns out that the impenetrable accent was asking her to confirm her surname).

Winter Fuel AllowanceThen, I had barely finished with the Revenue when I had to tackle the second government department, this time the Department for Work and Pensions. Being the wonderful socialist country that the People’s Republic of the UK is, we ancient pensioners (i.e., anyone over 60) are entitled to a modest allowance to help us pay for our winter fuel. I had the paperwork a few weeks ago and sent it off to the relevant department. On Friday I received a letter asking me to send them my original birth certificate.

Now, call me sceptical if you like but there is no way I am sending my original birth certificate off to any government department. Fortunately, the letter says that if I do not wish to send the original document I can contact my local Social Security or Job Centre Plus office and take my documents there. However, I must make an appointment to do so – “Please note that customers will not be seen unless they have made an appointment.” Seems pretty clear to me.

So, off to the interweb to try to find the phone number of the Banbury job centre which eventually is located on the Direct Gov web site. Unfortunately, the number turns out to be no longer valid. So, back to the letter and ring the phone number at the top for the Department of Work and Pensions. Hmmm. They’ve no idea what the phone number for the Banbury office might be nor how to find out. But they do give me another number to try where another kind lady explains that all Job Centre phone numbers have been centralised. “Great idea!” I say. “What would be even better is if the official government web site could be updated to let people know.” Now a sceptic (and, of course, I am not a sceptic) might suggest that if no one knows the phone number, no one can contact them but that would surely be unkind.

Eventually, I reach another kind lady at the Banbury Job Centre and I explain that I need to make an appointment to produce some paperwork at which point she explains that they do not make appointments, I should just turn up between 9 and 5, Monday to Friday. She then asks why I need to come in and I explain the contents of the letter. This is, as you might guess, complete news to her. She scampers off to consult a colleague who similarly hasn’t a clue but eventually they suggest that I turn up – without an appointment – with my letter and the necessary documentation of my age and they will take copies and send them off somewhere. Who knows where it will go or whether we will actually receive our winter fuel allowance. We’ll let you know!

Garden GnomeThe other “big” news this week is of the construction of some decking to hide the less than picturesque Klargester sewerage treatment facility which graces our front driveway. Penelope has been waiting about fifteen years for someone to get off his fat backside and build something to hide the Klargester and enable Ms Playchute to adorn it with some potted plants and the like. The “problem” is that this decking needs to be removable so that the Klargester can be serviced and emptied once a year. With Adam’s architectural know-how, design skills, and dedicated labour, we have succeeded in constructing panels which can be relatively easily removed when necessary. The finishing touch, I think, would be to drill a small hole in the centre of the deck immediately above the sewerage treatment plant and place a garden gnome with a fishing pole in the middle but I don’t imagine Penelope will let me do it. So what’s wrong with brown trout?

Love to you all,


PS – Happy birthday this week to Sandy, Amanda and Penny’s sister J. And happy birthday to Sarah last week. Anyone I’ve missed?