Oh dear, I am beginning to sound like an old person.
With age, they say, comes wisdom. What use is wisdom, when confronted with the modern world?
A few weeks ago, I got an information pack in the mail from the Department for Work and Pensions. The very name is a contradiction in terms: either you work, or you don’t and get a pension. Having one department to cover two opposing types of people, those who work and those who don’t, seems to set up an irreconcilable conflict of interests, but we’ll pass on.
The pack set out to tell me all about my State Pension, and how to claim it. That’s right, they know who I am, they know I’m 65 soon, still the pensionable age (it’s going up in 2016, phew. Skin of my teeth.), they know my birthdate, my national insurance number (because it’s all printed on the letter) so they know how much tax I’ve paid and who last employed me, and they know where I live because they’ve got my address – the date of my divorce is also a matter of public record – but I still have to formally ‘claim’ my pension by giving them all that information, that they already have, and more.
It’s a shitty-looking little monochrome booklet in hard-to-see pale grey and white, written in that singsong baby-language the Government imagines is plain English, in English and upside-down Welsh (I live in Wales, so I must be Welsh and therefore capable of understanding the language; no actual Welsh person can be expected to understand plain English, especially upside-down), with the title Your State Pension – Your Options and Choices (Eich Pensiwn y Wladwriaeth – Eich Opsiynau a Ddwisiadau).
What the Government fails to understand is that. even in plain English, communications have to make sense, and not be riddled with ambiguities or oversimplified descriptions of impossibly Byzantine procedures and protocols. Or maybe it’s deliberate, because paying out benefits people are entitled to is the last thing this austerity-minded government is inclined to do.
Basically, the first option the Department of No-Work and Pensions most obviously wants you to choose is not to claim your State Pension. All the clues point to it. They even offer you a bribe: for every five weeks you delay claiming, you get an extra one per cent bonus added to the weekly payment, to a maximum of 10.4 per cent – or you can have it as a handy lump sum at the end of the year, less any tax owing or other benefits you’ve received in the meantime, naturally.
Hurry now, while stocks last…
Page 12 is interesting. Claiming State Pension online. Quote: “It’s really easy and secure to claim your State Pension online”.
No, it isn’t.
Assuming you are not one of the 10 per cent of people who don’t have Internet access, there follows a list of items you will need – a bank account (they already know it), your insurance number (they already have it), your address (how else did they write to you?), the addresses and dates of all employment you have had in the past two years (PAYE taxed at source, so they already know this too), your partner’s insurance number, the dates of your marriages and divorces and deaths… All this, to ‘claim’ a pension to which every citizen who has worked and paid their insurance to HMG for 33 years is automatically entitled.
And why the complexity? “Security, old boy. We wouldn’t want just any foreign Johnny coming in and claiming your pension, now would we?”
It’s a farce, but most bureaucracy is, nothing unusual there, so we’ll pass on that too, to the part where you go online.
Halfway into the form, so far so really easy, until it demands that you key-in your Government Gateway User ID and Password. This is not listed as a requirement in the brochure, but without it you can’t progress with your claim online. So I key-in mine, and it isn’t recognised.
The failure cancels all the data I have already keyed-in, and I have to start over again. In any case, I have no idea what my password was when I first registered over two years ago. Why would I? It means I have to apply for another one, confirmation of which will arrive by post within 7-10 working days.
Now, to add to the Kafkaesque dimensions of this Byzantine procedure, to mix my literary metaphors, I have kept the letter to which my previous Government Gateway card, now apparently invalid, was attached, and it says this:
“You cannot activate the service with this User ID. Thank you for using the Government Gateway.”
And what that means is, that once I have my new User ID and Password set up, I need to obtain an Activation Code, and this will be sent to me under separate cover, by post, within 7-10 working days.
Issuing password reminders and activation codes instantly online is standard procedure with virtually every other online registration you will ever experience, using your unique IP address, but no, The Department for Work and Pensions is incapable of doing it that way and insists instead on sending them by post, to the same address where they’ve already sent the claim pack, which could indeed be the address of an entire houseful of illegal Kyrzgystani immigrants posing as you and not yours at all….
To remind you, “It’s really easy and secure to claim your State Pension online”.
Bollocks, on both counts.