Friday, 14 March 2008

In Big Brother Britain Don't Dare Move

I have long said 'Big Brother may be watching, but he's got poor eyesight'. Having worked for the civil service in three different branches I have been aware how dependent it is on human input. So many times do people misread things or transpose digits or drop files down the back of the shelving, that you can often find errors creaping in. My father ended up with three separate tax files because on different occasions when he had contacted the tax office they had got one or more of the digits of his national insurance number wrong or in the wrong order. The problem of such technical error, especially in an increasingly authoritarian regime, was shown sharply in the movie 'Brazil' (1985) in which an insect falls on a typing machine in a sinister 1984-style state and changes the first letter on the name of people to be arrested and a loyal servant of the state is arrested instead. In my own life changing branches at a bank once my middle initial was altered and the last three letters of my surname were left off creating a whole new name associated with my bank account. As we rush headlong towards identity cards in the UK I anticipate many more errors of this kind creaping in and you will find yourself picked up and held for 42 days without charge as your mistyped identity card number happens to be the same as a suspected terrorist. As people such as the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six innocent people wrongly convicted of terrorist activity in the mid-1970s demonstrated it is almost impossible to prove you are not a terrorist.

This post has rather branched off from my intended focuse which was a little more mundane, though for me far more immediate. Despite the fact that I moved house three months ago there still seems to be an incessant amount of people I have to inform about the fact. Partly I imagine that this stems from all the pbobia around identity fraud. This has reached such an extent with online shopping that given I forget all the identity names and passwords (and you are increasingly compelled to have very complex ones missing cases and numerals into the words) that I have abandoned buying online and gone back to doing it over the telephone, which seems to be a retrograde step and certainly more costly for me. Anyway, it took three attempts to get my bank to recognise that I had moved house though ironically they were the ones providing the mortgage for the house I am now living in. I had to change my credit card details separately as though the credit card comes from the bank it is actually supplied by a different company, something I was oblivious to as it has never come up before despite holding the credit card since 1987. Then of course there were the utilities. The fact that gas and electricity comes from a single company reduced one occasion of informing of change of address (and the company then charged me for fuel use at my old address and then refunded most of it generating even more paper) has to be balanced by the fact that in my town we have a separate water company and a sewage company both of which had to be informed. There was council tax and television licence too.

The main problem has come with things connected to the car. When you move you have to have a new insurance certificate which costs more money and they reassess if your new postcode is more hazardous than the previous one. Then I had to change my driving licence and I assumed that as this is handled by the DVLA that they would also change the vehicle registration details and car tax, but of course no, I found today that has to be done separately. Not only does this entail more phonecalls (no companies ever seem to respond to emails) but yet more paperwork as they never simply send you a licence but accompany it with a whole host of pamphlets. I do wonder if there is anything else I have forgotten to change. The electoral register is after us too, but we are loath to change that as we know our former landlord's representative is hunting us down and being public it is one source he will use to try to find us. Oh yes, and I forgot re-registering with a doctor and them wanting you to take out time to have a bloodtests and they are only open for that during office hours Monday to Thursday when I am working 30 miles away.

Of course once the identity cards come in we will have to change them each time we move too, and probably have to go for an interview. As with everything which is being added in British society, the poorer you are and thus the more mobile you are (as you have to seek out employment and housing) the more you are weighed down by such regulations and the cost of delay in changing things. The number of overlapped utility bills I have to pay is ridiculous. No-one seems to conside the burden of getting two bills on gas, electricity, water (they had cancelled the standing order when we moved for some reason then sent out a late payment letter), sewage, telephone (I had forgotten that one though this time it was resolved 5 weeks quicker than the last time I moved) occurring because they now insist you pay in advance for all utilities but they only stop charging you a month after you have left. Heaven help you if you lose one letter or scrap of paper, the authorities are unforgiving. Whilst I have no desire to have all information centralised I just wish bodies reacted as quickly as they expect us to do and not charge us double every time we move house.

The least companies can do is not tell you to inform them of change of address and yet throw away your details each time you move. They should not charge you in advance for utilities anyway and even if they do realise you do not have the capacity for two bills in one month. They should also pay attention when you actually send in change of address details, banks especially as an error in your address now mucks up so much verification of online purchasing. Finally when a company or organisation provides you with more than one service you should not have to change your address separately for each one. For a country which wants greater population, well in fact labour, mobility, its companies and government departments make it a nightmare even to move a mile.

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