One of Bexley council’s money saving schemes is to push the borough further on-line than it is already. It’s almost inevitable, everybody is doing it.
Across the river Newham has been an on-line only council for a couple of years. If you don’t sign up and log on you get nothing. Whether you are 19 or 99 they demand that you are computer literate.
As as result my aunt - 95 in a couple of weeks time - can no longer apply for visitors’ parking permits or get her bins emptied of anything other than ‘standard stuff’. In Newham that does not include jam jars.
She used to get the parking tickets in person at the town hall and phone for the bins. Neither is possible any more.
I think it was on 17th March that I went over there and she presented me with her council tax bill which had arrived that morning. Being of the old school she used to hand deliver a cheque for the full amount to the town hall. Banned now.
I suggested she paid by Direct Debit and never have to worry about the bill again. It was a dreadful rigmarole but I managed to set it up on-line. You would think entering the reference number would tell Newham council all they need to know, then just add the bank details. But no, they wanted her full name and full address before being able to add the truly necessary details.
On 2nd April a letter of confirmation arrived. No need to do anything it said. So far so good.
Yesterday I arrived in East Ham to find the nonagenarian close to tears. A letter had arrived that very day to say that if she didn’t pay the two months overdue within seven days they would commence legal proceedings. There was an emergency contact number on the reverse. I rang it.
After interminable announcements telling me I should use the web rather than bother their fat arses an automated voice asked me to state clearly what service I required. I said “Council tax”. It echoed back “Council tax”. Then after a short delay it said “Council tax has no voice mail. Goodbye” and cut me off.
I called again. I said “Direct Debit” but the robot said that Direct Debit was not a recognised phrase, it would have to connect me to the assistance point. I think the lesson I learned was that you may as well just say “FU” whatever sort of assistance you are seeking.
The line then made loud burbling noises through which I could just about hear that string of announcements being repeated. Eventually a lady answered, the burbling noises disappeared, and she immediately understood my requirements and put me through to the right extension. Except that no one answered.
The switchboard lady came back on line and said she couldn’t get through, “it often happens”. I asked if she could try again but she said she couldn’t because there were only two incoming lines and I was holding them up. Nevertheless she took pity on me and tried again. With the same result.
This time when she came back on line she said she had spoken to one of her colleagues and ‘Council tax’ had not answered a single call since last week. I asked her to connect me with Sir Robin Wales, the elected Mayor and renowned useless individual.
The operator said neither he nor his office took calls from the public. I asked how one could ever complain to these self important and vastly overpaid morons. She said there was an email address.
It is firstname.lastname@example.org which I place here in case it one day proves useful to another of their frustrated residents and because I rather hope that its unencrypted presence will result in Newham being spammed to hell.
I got on to my aunt’s bank today. Almost needless to say the money was taken on schedule at the beginning of the financial year. Administrative mistakes happen but the decision to go entirely on-line and put an impossible system in place is not an admin. cock up. It is what councils run by thoughtless idiots do.