Uncivil service

June 12, 2011

My acquaintance John Seddon has much to say about how business practices within the UK government are focused on the benefit of those responsible for the service, rather than those receiving them. A recent need to contact the HMRC, our taxation body – once widely feared as ‘the revenue’ confirmed this in many ways.

I’d recently received the annual statement regarding Tax Credits, this consisted of  four pages of statement, largely repeating itself, along with two pages of densely packed explanatory notes. Within the four pages of statement was a question regarding mine and my partner’s income. I don’t believe our incomes have changed much in the last twelve months, but the government has and so I expect a bracket I once fitted in has been removed. Answering this question with a ‘NO’ required the recipient to telephone HMRC.

I tried ringing one day and I was advised that there could be a long wait due to industrial action, so I left it. I tried another time and gave up after a lengthy wait. On the third occasion of waiting, and having answered a lengthy series of ‘press 1 for this’, and ‘press 2 for that’ instructions a lethargic voice finally answered (this was after at least fifteen minutes of hanging on).

I explained that I was ringing in response to answering ‘NO’ to a question in Step 1, under Step C of their Annual Review. I gave her my NI number and she responded that HMRC and their partner organisation Experian required me to prove my identity, and commenced asking me a string of detailed questions including the month and year I had moved into my current home and my previous employer. Since both of these had occurred nearly 25 years earlier I had some problems recalling them at the drop of a hat.

I was then informed that my answers were unsatisfactory and that I would have to attend an interview at my nearest HMRC office to prove my identity. At this point I said ‘enough’. I know who I am, I bank online with a range of providers, renew my car tax online and many other things, but this was taking a liberty, not just any liberty but my liberty.

As stated with the mention of John Seddon, the HMRC is well known to be dysfunctional. It even has a website dedicated to its dysfunction ‘HMRC is Shite’, The issue I have described is raised amongst those pages in a piece called ‘Hanging on the telephone’. This new ‘system’ has to be one of the worst examples of central government bureaucracy gone mad, by turning the horror of the Tax Credit system into a nightmare for any user.

I await the response to my written complaint, there apparently being no other way to contact the HMRC in this context.