First, and most importantly, thanks to all those who sent condolences for the passing of my mother – your kind thoughts are very much appreciated.
Secondly…well, yes, secondly.
Any death is sad: that goes without saying. But, let’s face it, death has always been with us – along with taxes, if one believes the old adage. Therefore, one would have thought that in the twenty-first century, major institutions would take it in their stride, and have systems in place to manage its ramifications discreetly, sympathetically, and efficiently. To be fair, my experiences over the last few weeks suggest that quite a lot do, and not necessarily those you’d expect – for example, take a bow, Sky TV, much maligned as you may be in so many other ways. But when it comes to some other public and private bodies of this green and pleasant land, including, yes, Her Majesty’s Government itself, I’ve become increasingly convinced that they regard death as an annoying administrative inconvenience, and a thoroughly inexcusable piece of self-indulgence on the part of the deceased.
So here are some of the more baffling issues I’ve encountered recently, set out as the ‘J D Davies Bereavement Institutional Fail Award’.
- In sixth place – ‘The Deceased Preference Service’. I never knew that such a thing existed. After careful study, though, I can confirm that this has no option saying ‘I’d prefer not to be deceased’.
- In fifth place is whichever functionary decided that even undertakers should now issue you with that bane of modern life, the feedback form.
- In fourth place…the Post Office. One of the more commendable developments in recent years has been for banks, utility companies, etc, to encourage you to ‘go paperless’, doing your bit to save the planet by getting statements online (or, in reality, saving said institutions the costs of postage, thereby boosting their already obscene profits). This is fine until you come to having to prove your identity to, say, set up mail redirection, for which the Post Office insists on seeing hard copy statements. The Post Office also clearly has no truck with this dangerous new-fangled notion of ‘online applications’, and insists on requesting the service via a handwritten paper form, which has to be checked by a postmaster.
- Third place goes to my mum’s house insurers, who sent me a form with a series of questions about the state and disposal of the house, then sent me two separate letters giving identical figures for a revised policy, but who, when I phoned them to clarify a point, also asked me the exact same series of questions before giving me a completely different set of figures.
- The runner-up is Welsh Water. After phoning them to arrange for the transfer of the account into my name, I received this priceless piece of bureaucratic ineptitude. (Quite apart from the sheer number of ‘insert correct word/amount/absolutely anything at all’ gaffes, ‘welcome to your new home’ had me in stitches, given that I originally moved there when I was three.)
- And the winner of the ‘J D Davies Bereavement Institutional Fail’ award is…cue drumroll…yes, Her Majesty’s Government, in the specific shape of HMRC. Having done probate on a couple of previous occasions, an undertaking which involved one of the most dreaded experiences known to mankind – namely, going to Peterborough – I gave out three hearty cheers when I learned that they’ve recently introduced a facility to do it online. Surely, I thought, in the depths of my deluded naivete, this would involve merely logging in with my existing self-assessment details? After all, if that security is good enough for tax affairs, surely it’s only logical for it to cover this as well. But, dear reader, you begin to see my error – I dared to apply the word ‘logical’ to something conjured up by our beloved and not at all incompetent government. Oh no. Instead of simply logging in, one has to ring what’s laughably described as ‘the HMRC helpline’, which will supposedly provide the information to allow you to access the system. After going through another of the banes of modern life – ‘press one to hear the sound of wildebeest stampeding across the Serengeti, press two to possibly speak to a human being if you’re very lucky’ – and then another, namely half an hour or more on hold, you get through to a bored and clearly distracted individual who informs you that he can’t give you said access information, but will pass on your details to another HMRC office, in Oxford, which will then email you the information you need. Which they still haven’t done, three weeks later. Now, I know that not everybody’s registered for self-assessment and has login details…but would it really be too difficult for the actual helpline itself to provide the necessary details, or even (yes, burn the heretic) to transfer the call to the office in Oxford? Or is this fabled Oxford office actually in another dimension, peopled by Olympian deities who occasionally deign to bestow crumbs of information on mere mortals? So at the time when this blog is published, dear reader, it’s a racing certainty that I’ll be on hold on the HMRC helpline, wondering how the wildebeest are getting on.
Forget Brexit: if British institutions can’t handle death, then we really are up s*** creek without a paddle.