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back to article Disability rights activist chains self to tax office desk

Poor system design and large inflexible bureaucracies are encouraging outraged punters to take the law into their own hands. Is this healthy? Or is government slowly teaching the electorate that the only way to get things sorted is by direct action and being unreasonable? Take the case of disability rights activist Clair Lewis, …

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"staff unawareness."

"and then compounded by staff unawareness."

Is that a polite way of saying "the entire system is run by malcontent, inbread, rubber stampers who don't give a flying fuck about helping you deal with this steaming pile of bureaucracy that's imposed upon you".

Perhaps that would be more apt.

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Black Helicopters

Keeping your MP in a job

It'd be more fair to say that the civil service is staffed with people that never gave a flying-fuck or learned that there is little point in trying to handout flying-fucks since that isn't your job and will only get in the way of doing your already to busy* workstack.

As to how we ended up with a civil service packed full of flying-fuck hoarders? Being the most despised group in the political system (even lower than MPs and reporters) they are treated with even less trust than the average prison inmate or call center drone. Years of Tory and Labour governments have taken something that was fairly bureaucratic and extracted every ounce of humanity, since government policy is to just assume all people working in the public sector (except MPs) are all selfish self-interested bastards and can only be trusted if the bureaucracy is a straight jacket for defined behaviour.

Of course the best approach (handcuffing leaves you at the hands of the uber civil servant, the cops) when you get caught in the teeth of the civil service escalator is to visit MP and beg for help before you either lose you clothes or get skinned like a diver taking of a wet suit.

*(busy because your are an imbecile or busy because you are working under an imbecilic boss/department, or Bob forbid, both).

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Not in my experience

While between jobs last year, I had the misfortune to deal with the local employment agency. Although the staff did their best to help, especially when they saw I really was trying to find work, they were hamstrung an IT system that completely thwarted any attempt to use initiative and red tape designed to make it as difficult as possible to claim what you are entitled to. So it would be more apt to say the system is set up and managed by malevolent, inbred jobsworths, who don't give a flying fork about helping you or the staff that work for them.

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"a threat to the good running of the organisation"?

Sounds more like a typical employee of said organisation rather than one woman handcuffed to one desk in one office of one building!

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Joke

Typical really

This is just another example of the inefficient nonsense we have in government departments. Cleggy and the PM want to save money? They should look closer to home before accusing everybody else. Not that politicians would use public money inappropriately....

... OK OK... joke! :o)

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They force you to the point of unreasoanble behaviour

and then blame you for behaving unreasoanbly!

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oh yes

is it not the hangover from NuLabour.

Who gives a fuckinshite any way.

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as anyone can testify

that all council departments are run by unhelpful retards.

as someone who was unlucky enough to need housing benefits years ago i can tell you i had to fill out 6 applications in 6 months (and they are about 100 pages long!) due to them constantly losing each one. even when i handed them in at their office and got a receipt.

btw - this wasnt brown and blairs issue. this was under the tories. dont forget what a mess they made last time too.... it seems that anyone wanting to go into politics should be euthanized forth with as they will obviously be a self serving, incompetent arsehole

the only thing they ever are good at is getting money from you.

but then again we all know council is where the rejects end up who cant cut it in the real world.

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Anonymous Coward

Been There myself

First lesson. Always get a receipt. No back dating of payments without the receipt.

When I first claimed housing benefit, the landlord said that he would be handing me letter threatening eviction in 8 weeks time as the council will not have paid and that this letter would be the only way to get them to process the claim. Sounds like your council is like mine.

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some good government workers

when I had to claim housing benefit recently, I went to the one-stop shop, and they literally processed the application on the spot, with payment within 48 hours.

In my previous job, before I lost the ability to type without voice-activated software,I was a payments administrator, making payments on the half of social services, at my local council. although some co-workers did turn a blind eye to problems actual and potential, I made both friends and enemies by never allowing a potential or actual problem to leave my notice without my ensuring it was to be dealt with.

using my judgement to prioritise payments to clients and charities in the most need,was deeply, deeply satisfying, and although it was repetitive stupid work, and although I got it in the neck in the end for sticking my neck out where I saw serious problems with our systems, I will always love having been able to take responsibility for ensuring things went right.

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Anonymous Coward

When I were a lad....

...back in the 1980s I was a student in Glasgow. I discovered on second year that I could in fact claim housing benefit* but of course the problem for students in Glasgow back then was that you weren't allowed into the housing benefits office.

I kid you not, they had security guards on the door and unless you had an appointment (impossible if you were a student) then you weren't getting in. They had maybe a hundred application forms per week and once they ran out that was it.

So don't give me any crap about tories this and that - GCC has ALWAYS been a Labour council but they don't give a fuck about the poor and never have. All they care about is filling their own pockets - just like every other Labour politician.

Administrative public sector workers are grossly overpaid (for what limited roles they do) and overstaffed, yet have managed to become 13% LESS productive over the last decade. Time to give 30% of them the bullet for that's what the UK as a whole is prepared to pay for.

After 13 years of Nufuckwits what do you expect?

*it was in fact council policy to routinely refuse housing benefit to anyone who didn't already live in Glasgow - yes really.

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What do you expect.

You will get the same kind of nonsense from Banks, Utilities and a whole host of other commodity run process organisations. A call centre operative works to a script, if you deviate from that script they have no authority to act. Not only that they are limited in the amount of time they can spend on the phone to you, as they need to answer a given number of calls in a given time to meet their targets.

The processes are set up to protect he organisation from the effects of random decisions by their employees that might get them sued. If you stick to the process you can't get fired or sued. Trouble is that human beings outside this world don't follow the process rules, and the number of possible variations of action exceeds the capacity of most business analysts to think through, especially as they are usually inexperienced in life.

Our societies continued obsession of pushing costs down mean that you get the service you pay for, and that it is naturally imperfect. Remember that a call centre is built by the lowest bidder, how has put in the lowest effort quote to deliver the minimum solution that meets the customers requirements which were in turn written by business analysts who were brought in from a consultancy who quoted the lowest price for the work. Each of these will seek to maximise their profit by time boxing their efforts to meet timescales and budgets. Step outside that and you get into change control and ching, ching, ching.

Full marks, if you want service go to the service desk and demand satisfaction, the call centre won't help, but the human beings in front of you will, because they can see you, and have to deal with a face, and are far more likely to do what you want, and indeed know how to do it, because they don't work from scripts.

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Nomination

...for the best comment so far, on account of attempting to give a reasoned explanation of the situation within public services without resorting to the "all public sector workers are [insert derogatory term here] by virtue of being servants/ I pay their wages I should get whatever I want" type argument.

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Stop

What do I expect?

I expect better. I expect people to do the job they are paid to do, which is customer service, not customer fobbing -off. I expect the stupid trend to outsourcing to stop, so that the people doing the job are vulnerable to judicial oversight from the people they actually serve i.e. the customer. I expect anyone that does not give at least 90% (because everyone is entitled to the odd bad day) to dealing with the problems put to them, or be disciplined and fired. I expect the management of any public service front-end to know what problems are faced by the staff, and to deal with them. I expect a flexible system that allows for easy exception handling.

Last of all, I expect people not to make excuses for the pile of shit that is our public services.

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Congratulations, Clare!

On becoming a professional smut peddler at last! Google Clare Lewis CAAN for salacious details on this wheely hot pornographer.

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FAIL

To quote an overused phrase...

"the computer says nooo. <cough>"

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Anonymous Coward

Sorrt but...

I'd like to see the number of reported cases of government incompetence increase. I'd also like to see the number of people willing to force the incompetent gov'm't bodies to actually listen to the people who actually pay their wages.

The main, and most terrifying, problem is that, unlike for the rest of us, civil servants are not personally responsible for their own mistakes. If a department head realised that he / she could lose his / her job, be fined, or even imprisoned for mistakes _they_ made, then I am sure that their work performance and accuracy would improve considerably.

Nothing is going to change until civil servants, including high ranking members of the civil service, are held in post for a number of years and are made responsible for the actions of their subordinates.

As long as they can say, nothings going to happen to me so why bother? Nothing is going to change.

Please, please, please bring on the revolution.

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When was this lesson unlearnt?

Back in the 70s when we set up Claimant Unions, Haven, and Gingerbread groups, squatting the offices of recalcitrant officials that failed to do the right thing was standard procedure. One group inside and another group outside to organize the local press.

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And when the courts side with the government bureaucrats

And when the courts side with the government bureaucrats, perhaps the only option left is direct action: an earlier Register story of unaccountable incompetence:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/08/05/moj_andre_power/

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FAIL

broken record

Every time my family has notified tax credits of a change, 'glitches' seem to happen. We have disability elements in our claim.

We usually end up waiting 6 to 8 weeks a time with no tax credits for changes to our circumstances. The first two weeks of any claim is spent with the tax office denying it ever received our paperwork, until a manager finally accepts the special delivery proof of receipt as meaning they have it (pity the people who send it in regular post).

The next two weeks there are no updates, its just 'in the system' with nothing anyone can do about it..

hen week 5 they find a 'glitch' which stopped the processing during week two and which no one saw or picked up on at the time, though "someone should have." They finally sort it out in week 6 (or 7/8 depending on how they feel).

Things go well until a few months later we receive a notice that they calculated it wrong and we owe them a silly amount of money to pay back, which after a phone call they say is another 'glitch' and its really OK. A notice gets sent out saying we owe zero, then 3 months later another 'you owe us money' letter appears. Rinse and repeat all over again.

From what i read on disability forums we are on, this seems very much the norm for tax credits.

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Same here

This happened to my (disability related tax credits) claims too, every time. They'v been chasing me for the last two years for an amount which is 3x what I ever received! It's happened to everyone I've ever known who isn't claiming child-related TCs. I honestly think it's to put people off claiming in the first place.

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Anonymous Coward

HMRC want your views

No, seriously - time is short; they want comments by tomorrow, but let them know what you think of their plans to improve the PAYE bit of the tax system - the condoc is at http://customs.hmrc.gov.uk/channelsPortalWebApp/channelsPortalWebApp.portal?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=pageLibrary_ConsultationDocuments&propertyType=document&columns=1&id=HMCE_PROD1_030623

El Reg readers should have particular fun with the final section.

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Paris Hilton

(un)civil servitude strikes again

But why should it come as a surprise?

Expect more, much more, of the same.

Experience suggests it is not personal (I'd guess that there are at least a few civil servants well motivated to doing good) but the whole system is rank.

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Terminator

Location, Location, Location

Sad as it may be, I've always attempted to choose to deal with organisations that have a local presence, simply because when things go wrong it is easier to pitch up on their doorstep to ensure they get it fixed.

Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you really wanted.

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FAIL

"Efficiency savings"...

mean that this sort of thing is only going to get more common. I'm most impressed Ms Lewis was able to get inside a tax office to act - so many government bodies are now retreating into offices that the public are positively discouraged from finding. On the other side, the petty procedures and regulations imposed on the staff mean that none of them has the remotest authority to act without getting it approved by several tiers of management.

Don't be too hard on the lower levels. In order to skill them down and so pay them less, they are very likely to have a set of rules they simply can't step away from for fear of disciplinary action. Thus we have the stupidity of not being able to act until a set letter has been sent out, but not being able to send that letter out outside of a rigid priority system.

And, of course, there will be no apology. HMRC doesn't do that.

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Megaphone

ME, Vista and 2007...

'...is government slowly teaching the electorate that the only way to get things sorted is by direct action and being unreasonable?'

There's nothing wrong with direct action being taken by the innocent victims of bureaucratic stupidity, except that the victim shouldn't be put in such a position in the first place. What I wonder though, is why the author of the article uses the word 'unreasonable'. It seems to me that Ms Lewis acted in an extremely reasonable and sensible manner, albeit with an edge, and got precisely what she wanted. If instead, she had hauled off and smacked a few heads, THAT could possibly be said to be unreasonable (though I imagine most of the population would understand why she did it).

Well done, Ms Lewis.

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Unhappy

you think this is unusual?

the frightening thing is you think this is a special case.

benefits always default to NOT paying people.

Council Tax cab take over 2 months to workout benefit, meanwhile they tell you to pay up the full amount and reassure you that you will get the money back later. Ignoring the point that you are applying for benefit because you do not have the money.

Why, in this age of computerised EVERYTHING,does it take so long?

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Unhappy

Inefficient Staff?

I became unemployed under the last Tory government, and I have to disagree with people who say the benefits staff are not efficient. they were very good at finding reasons I couldn't claim benefit.

Housing benefit - no chance I had a mortgage so I didn't need help.

anything to help with my dependents? (Wife and two young children.) Not a chance! I lost track of the reasons given.

Eventually wroked three part time jobs to make ends meet, paying emergency tax against two of the jobs. And guess what? A threatening letter from the tax office telling me I waspaying the wrong amount of tax, and action would be taken against me.

Yeah - I was paying too much tax!!

Pratts.

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