Thursday, March 12, 2009

Offensively Incompetent

Amongst the TV adverts that I find particularly offensive are a trio of "Big Brother is watching you" styled adverts. The first claims that the TV licensing database is keeping a close eye, the second that the car tax database knows exactly which cars aren't registered, and the third claims that they're closing in on benefits cheats. It's as if these various organisations have read "Nineteen Eighty-Four", but haven't realised that it's a warning, and not a how-to guide for good governance.

(The car tax one is particularly offensive. If the powers-that-be were really concerned about getting in all the money due for car tax, they would actually abolish the tax disk, and instead roll the charge into fuel duties. This would have the benefit of being much easier to administer and much harder to dodge. It would also be inherently fairer, as heavy road users would use more fuel and so pay more tax, would ensure that vehicles that damage the roads more would pay more by virtue of using more fuel, and would ensure that foreign vehicles using our roads would pay an appropriate level of tax. It would also be yet another step towards the governments green agenda, since again vehicles that are more efficient cause less pollution by virtue of using less fuel. But, in fact, car tax isn't about the money, but rather about control - the government want to keep track of who owns which car and where. Or perhaps it's about making work for another layer of civil servants.)

Anyway, offensive as these adverts are, I think I am more annoyed by the utter failure of these supposed systems to actually work. Now, I can't speak about the "benefits cheats" issue, since the one and only time I actually tried to claim a benefit I was entitled to, I was turned down. Since the Job Centre was peopled by zombies, I decided to let the money go rather than fight for it.

Although, perhaps there's this: if the database is so good at identifying cheats, why haven't they cut off the benefits to these people?


On Saturday, I looked out of my window, and saw a traffic warden making his way down the street. he stopped briefly at each vehicle, as if checking something. At this, I felt a moment of panic - was there perhaps some parking restriction that I didn't know about? Sure, there weren't any lines on the street, nor any signs stating a restriction, but that wouldn't necessarily stop them - a standard tactic is for them to write the ticket anyway, and then close all the bureaucratic doors so that it's easier and less costly just to pay rather than fight the ticket.

But, no. It turned out there is no restriction. Instead, he was busily checking the tax disks of the vehicles on the street. Which raises the question: what about the database? Surely, if it is so wonderful and up-to-date, then they don't need to actually check the physical disks, but can rather perform a query electronically?

Apparently not. I guess Big Brother isn't really watching us after all.

But then there's the TV license. Ah, the joys of the TV license.

I moved house on the 21st of February. And, as Graeme will confirm, on the 21st of February I refused to let him put the TV on because the license hadn't been transferred. This was finally done early on the 23rd.

Now, the best way to transfer the license would have been online, of course, but that wasn't an option. Instead, I was forced to use the telephone, which put me through an automated system. After several minutes of dealing with this, I had completed the task, although I was never entirely convinced that it actually had the right data in place.

Yesterday, I received a threatening letter from the TV licensing people. My address wasn't licensed, and they were all set to release the hounds. I had to act NOW NOW NOW, or they'd come and stab me repeatedly in the head. Or something.

Importantly, the post-mark on this letter was the 9th of March.

So, I phoned them to set things right. Which put me through to an electronic switchboard, which neatly directed me to the same change-of-address system that I assumed was wrong the first time.

At this point I hung up, rang back, and steadfastly refused to press any keys. Eventually, the menu timed out and put me through to a real person. (Useful trick, that. I think I'll use it more often.)

Anyway, I explained the situation, gave my license number, and he looked it up. And, sure enough, my license was correctly registered at my new address, following the change-of-address logged on the 23rd.

So, despite the fact that I had updated my details in a timely fashion, despite the fact that their own database knew I had a valid license, they still sent me a threatening letter saying I didn't have a license, and they would be taking steps?

(Oh, and incidentally, this isn't the first time - exactly the same thing happened when I moved into my flat in Yeovil. The archives of this blog will confirm as such.)


In other news, my telephone still hasn't been renumbered, and my broadband connection still has not been enabled. I find I am totally unsurprised by these developments.

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