Grumble 41

What a waste of time and money!

Save money with a new call centre or lose customers because of it?


Tax Credits

Electronic components (Jan 2003)

 I rang my suppliers the other day (that was the middle of January 2003).
Usually I get straight through to a salesperson and read my order to them and a few moments later I get back to repairing things

About Christmas I first noticed that it took a little longer to get through
"Probably the Christmas rush", I said to myself and waited for the call to be answered

A few days later the next call was answered pretty quickly
I started to ask if I may place an order but then found it was a recorded announcement
"Your call is important to us", the voice said
Then some distorted music came on the line
A few minutes later a voice came on to repeat that "My call was important to them",

I thought that they were fibbing and I was really intruding so I hung up and rang another supplier

Since then the delays have got longer
Not only does my arm get tired holding the phone to my ear but I'm paying for the call

It's not too bad when the ringing doesn't get answered but when you are obliged to listen AND PAY for distorted music, I'd rather it was Radio 4 and straight from my wireless

The other day I needed to check on the availability of something
All I got was a recorded voice and distorted music so I logged onto their web-site and tried searching for what I needed

I gave up
Websites are no use when what you require just isn't there

I wasted a lot of time
I then wasted more time writing to the firm via their embedded "talk to us" e-mail facility
I finished filling in a long-winded form and keyed in my complaint
I hit the send button and nothing happened
I looked at the screen
I hadn't filled in a field
I did this but noticed the carefully worded message had been truncated

Soon after… I got a reply
It seems that my complaint had been forwarded… with lots and lots of others on the same subject

Will they listen?
Who knows?

Would you believe it!

I received a letter today (3 months later, 2nd May 2003) apologising for problems placing orders. Too late for some maybe?


Broadband (February 2003)

 I got a letter from BT
At least it was the latest totally indecipherable statement from them for our telephone line
The envelope was stuffed with papers
One caught my eye

"The Waiting is over", it said
"Broadband is here"
Excellent I thought and I rang the number it gave to get switched on
I didn't get through to anyone
Just a bored voice telling me to "Press button 1 if I was moving house", or "Press button 2 if I wanted this or that"
I waited.. this usually works

Eventually there was a ringing and a voice answered
"What's your phone number", it asked
I tried to ask about broadband but the voice wouldn't let me
"What's your phone number"
"What's your name"
"What's your address"
"What's your postcode"
"I only want to ask about broadband"
"I have to check you are who you say you are", said the voice
I said, "The waiting is over
Broadband has arrived
I have a letter in my hand telling me so"

"You can get broadband from other people", said the voice
"Its you I'm calling", I said

"When can you connect me?", I asked
"I have to check if your exchange is appropriate", said the voice
"It must be", I said
"I have a letter here saying the waiting is over"

"No that's just a circular", said the voice

"Do you mean my waiting isn't over?", I asked

"I'll just check your exchange", said the voice

"There are 89 pre-registrations", said the voice

"What does that mean?", I asked

"Well when the trigger level is reached the exchange will be modified and you can have broadband"

"What's the trigger level?", I asked

"There isn't one", said the voice

"What do you mean then?", I asked

"Well the thermometer is about half way up so maybe another 100 pre-registrations are required before the review"

"What review?"

"When the trigger level is reached there will be a review"

"But there isn't a trigger level", I said

"No", said the voice

Like many other villages in the UK....after a long wait and the perserverance of local activists broadband is coming to Bransgore, AND I do believe we are under 5 km from the local exchange (although even after 18 years in Bransgore, I haven't figured out where it is!) so we should be able to join in the fray. From what I've read about it though, there are as many fiddles as normal narrowband. My 56k modem used to run flat out at an indiacted 115k (up plus down) but, as the Net got more popular, the speed dropped progressively and now it drops below 28k at times (14k up and 14k down). Broadband is similar. If lots of people use it the speed will drop from the proclaimed 500k as there is only just so much capacity at the various exchanges. You can't get a quart into a pint pot goes the saying. The normal "contention" rate is 50; or 50 users can theoretically be busy at any instant. In reality most will be reading webpages rather than frantically downloading music.

BT charge too much. About £16 per month to retailers (that's ISPs) and about £30 to normal customers. ISPs can charge whatever they like. Too little and they can't make ends meet and they vanish into oblivion with their customers' hard earned cash. I'm informed that £27 to £29 is a fair charge but of course that just reflects BTs trade price.

Well I signed up for Broadband quite soon after the exchange was modified. I signed up with BT. Most of the staff manning their telephone help lines are absolute rubbish but the modem and its software is fine. I also signed up for BT Premium Mail for mail and webspace. The total came to £28.50 per month. The modem was free and so was the ADSL line modification at the exchange. The indicated speed is 576k compared with the previous 20K from Freeserve. So far the service has been really good and I can distribute it over my local area network and free up my computer from the attentions of the kids.

Now we can use the telephone whilst we are using the Internet. Business is beginning to improve now people can ring me up about their defunct TV sets and computers....


The Inland Revenue and Tax Credits (May 2003)

 We received a letter from the Inland Revenue in January 2003

It was addressed to my wife
It had her name at the top of the letter
Underneath her name it had her National Insurance Number

The letter said she had forgotten to fill in "Box xyz"

What was required in "Box xyz"?

Her National insurance Number

She copied it from the top of the letter into "Box xyz"

It also said that she hadn't filled in her bank details

It said across the top of the form

"Do not fill in bank details if you want to open a Post Office Account"

She rang the Inland Revenue last month

"Don't fill in your bank details if you want to open a Post Office Account", she was informed

She didn't fill in the boxes

The letter said, "you don't have to post the reply"

"You can ring the number at the top of the page and someone will enter the details on their computer"

That seemed a good idea
I didn't have to hike off to the post box
I rang the number
"Press 1 if you've moved house", it said
"Press 2 if you…."
I waited, listening then pressed the required number

A voice said, "All the operators are busy", and I should wait

Horrible distorted music came on the line

I waited and waited and waited...

Recorded voices came and went, until after 15 minutes
A voice came on and said, "there is an unprecedented number of calls", and I should try again later

I wrote a note on the bottom of the form about having wasted lots of time and money listening to recorded voices and distorted music

The letter was posted…

We all ought to complain whenever we think we're being taken for granted!

It's now February 2003

A first class letter dropped on the mat

"If you haven't sent your form in do so now or else!"

Maybe they haven't received our form?

I rang. I rang again. I rang lots of times and eventually got through.

"We have your form", a voice said.

"Why did you send us a letter then?"

"Everyone was sent a letter. It was a mistake", the voice said.

It's now March 2003.

A first class letter dropped on the mat

"If you haven't sent your form in do so now or else!"

"But they have our form. It's a computer error", I said.

It's now April 2003.

A first class letter dropped on the mat

"If you haven't sent your form in do so now or else!"

"But I think they have our form. It's probably a computer error", I said.

Just think of the postage costs.

1 million letters x 3 x postage is more than £800,000

It's now May 2003.

My wife is still waiting for her cheque due at the beginning of April

In fact we're waiting for four cheques now.

If I'm a day late with my Tax Return there's a £100 fine.

I asked the Post Office lady. "Are the new Inland Revenue Accounts all up and running yet?"

"No", she said, "not yet."

I rang the special number on the last letter.

It was busy. "Press 3 to use Ringback", a voice said. I pressed "3". A voice said, "that facility is not availiable on this number."

I rang and rang and rang but the number is always busy.

I sent an e-mail but I haven't received a reply.

What next?

I know, I'll ring up a different number...

Busy... but this one just went click after a few moments and I was cut off.

I'll look in the local phone book under "Inland Revenue".

All the helpline numbers looked decidely unpromising so I rang the "General Number".

It rang and a voice said... "All or advisors are busy.. we'll try to connect you..."

Then a second recording said they were still trying to connect me..

Then a third recording suggested I tried again later...

At this point my phone battery had nearly expired, so better safe than sorry I popped over to the workshop phone.

After nearly 30 minutes of listening to the voice suggesting I try again later and trying to determine whether the tiny sound that preceded the voice was the rattle of a spoon against teacup, a loud voice asked me what I wanted.

For a few moments I forgot why I was holding the phone to my ear...

I explained why I was ringing but to no avail. The young lady could not access "The System". "Did you elect to be paid monthly through your bank", she asked?

"I don't believe so", I said. "I think you owe us four separate weeks giros."

"There are hardship payments", she said.

"I bet that won't cover three mortgage payments", I said.

She agreed but couldn't help further.

"Do you have an ombudsman or someone to whom I can complain", I asked?

"Oh yes we have a chap here to whom I can connect you..", and without a delay of more than a few moments there he was.

I explained again.

"Did you elect to be paid through your bank monthly?"

"I don't believe so", I said. "That's why I'm complaining. You owe us for four weeks".

He tapped a few keys.

"You're correct", he said. "The good news is that there is a giro coming your way on the 6th May".

I did a quick calculation from the figures he quoted.

"That's four weeks payments.

We shall be rich beyond our wildest dreams", I said.

"Before I go", I said. "Can I just mention about the letter we received telling us to fill in our form or else".

"Everyone got one of those", he said. "The computers couldn't work out whose forms we 'd received and whose we hadn't so we sent a letter to everyone on the database".

"How many people are on the database", I asked.

"Millions", he replied.

"Do you know how much money those letters cost?", I asked him.

"No", he said.

"Well", I said, "just the postage for the first class mail cost a conservative £800,000 per million people.

For 9 million un-necessary letters that's nearly two and a half million pounds!"

He wasn't the least concerned, and said it was a good way of making sure everyone put in a claim.

"At least the postman's bags were kept full", I said.

Roll on next week. It'll be like winning the lottery when that giro arrives!

Post script... two giros arrived..

Made out to me not my wife... strange.. I thought this new scheme was designed to give cash direct to my wife not me!

Anyway... I didn't apply for it.. she did?

You just can't get the staff these days!

I spoke too soon.. the next day another giro dropped on the mat... this one addressed to my wife

And another the next day!

That'll be three covering letters in the pipeline too. A total of eight letters, all first class to send one payment!

Who is writing the software for these new computer systems run by the Inland Revenue?

I know. It's a fifth columnist from the Royal Mail drumming up more business!

Today (20th Aug 2003) a letter dropped on the doormat. It's from the Inland Revenue. It seems they have a Customer Research Team. Social Research Officers, via an independent research company, annually check with their "customers" to see how well they are doing their stuff. For starters I don't care much for the term "customer". I wonder if the term "the customer is always right", applies to customers of the Inland Revenue? Fat chance of that! That being the case we're not customers. Isn't it a fundamental principle that a "customer" has the right of choice. Not in this case. Either we're not customers or the Inland Revenue is not a monopoly. The former is of course the case. I think I'll ring them and suggest that if they don't pull their socks up this customer will take his business elsewhere. Now let's get down to preparing a list of complaints for the caller from the Independent Research Company.

A young chap duly rang and I recounted my tales of woe. After 20 minutes he said he'd run out of paper so couldn't make any more notes on my form.


this started in August 2003

There'll be no more giros soon because the Inland Revenue are paying cash direct to bank accounts. If you don't want to have cash paid into a bank account you can open a new Post Office Account and it'll be paid into that.

Anyway a few weeks before the payments started to be made to our new P.O.Account (sometime in August) a single giro instead of the customary two dropped onto the doormat. I opened the door and quizzed the postman.

"Where's the other giro?"

"Not here", he said. "Maybe it'll come tomorrow".

The next day nothing other than the usual collection of rubbish, begging letters and prize draw winnings.

I rang the Inland Revenue. "Where's my giro... it didn't arrive".

"Wait a few days".

I waited a few days and rang again. "Where's my giro?"

"It's probably been stolen", said the voice.

"Can I have another then? "

"Yes but there's so many being stolen we just can't keep up with the paperwork", was the reply. "I'll send you a form to say its gone missing. How much was it for?"

Is this a trick question I mused? "I don't know.. I didn't receive it".

I waited a week and the promised form didn't arrive.

I rang the Inland Revenue

"Where's my form?"

"Wait a few days."

I waited a few days.

"Where's my form?" I asked when I'd rung again.

"I'll send you another".

After a couple of days two forms arrived in the same post.

I filled in the details on one of the forms and posted it.

Funny I thought... by the time I've paid for all these phone calls and stamps I'll be worse off.

Nothing happened for a very long time.

I called the Inland Revenue.

"Where's my giro?"

"Give it a few days".

I waited a couple more weeks

I rang again. "Where's my giro?"

The person sounded very concerned and took a lot of details and promised to send it the next day.

Nothing arrived and after two weeks I rang again. "Where's my giro?"

"Give it a few days".

"No", I said, "I won't give it a few days. I've been waiting for over 3 months. Tell me what's going on".

"It's very difficult", said the voice on the phone. "We've had a lot of computer problems and for a query like yours I have to switch to another program and I can't remember what was on the first screen".

"If you insist, I'll have to borrow my colleague's computer".

"I insist", I said.

There was a lot of key pressing and talking then I was told to wait and listen to some music.

The music stopped and a voice said, "You've had the replacement giro already".

"No I haven't", I said.

"Wait a minute",... then there was more music. At this point my telephone battery started to go flat and the phone made beeping noises so I went to the workshop phone and listened to the music on that one.

The music stopped and the voice said.. "What we've done is to divide the amount by 52 and you're getting it spread over a year".

"I'm sorry", I said, "I don't want it spread over a year. I want it in one sum. Put me through to your supervisor".

"OK", the voice said and for the third time I was left listening to music.

After a long time the music stopped. "I asked... do you know what the music is?"

"No", said the voice...

"The first bit is John Lennon singing but I don't know the classical bit that follows".

"Hold on a moment...It's Vivaldi", said the voice.

"Very nice too but what about my giro?", I asked

"I had another look on the computer and I was wrong about us spreading it out over 52 weeks", said the voice. "You haven't had any of it".

"I thought I hadn't", I said, "that's why I'm ringing you now, in fact I think I've spent more on this phone call than the value of the giro".

"Give me a day or two", said the voice, "and I'll pay it into your Post Office Account...."

"Will you send me a letter to say that you've paid it", I asked.

"Yes", said the voice.

That was three weeks ago, nearly three and a half months into the saga, it's now well into December, and I'm still waiting......

I'm still waiting and now it's February 2004.....

I was talking to my mother the other day... it seems the Inland Revenue are paying pensions into banks or Post Office Accounts now.

She said her new PO Account was up and running but she couldn't draw her pension. It seems her special card needed to access the account hadn't arrived yet. She had rung the Inland Revenue on three occasions and had received three forms to fill in. These had duly been completed and despatched but still no signs of her card and of course she can't draw her pension.

If pen pushers in industry were that inept they'd be sacked. Not so the anonymous civil servants running the country.

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