More red tape

Sarah was round here this afternoon.  Wanted me to countersign a passport renewal application.  Called on me ‘cos I was in the right place at the right time.

OK, not a problem.  I’ve known her since 1998, I know her address, I know her parents, and I’ve met other family members.  I can vouch for her being who she says she is with as much confidence as pretty much anyone.  So far, all perfectly reasonable.  That is, if we accept the need for anyone to countersign a perfectly routine renewal application, where the old passport is available and expires later this month.

The form itself is ridiculously confusing.  Not the main part, but the section where I sign.  It asks for information about me, but it bundles several questions into a single answer field.  My occupation and professional qualifications on one line.  My employer’s name and my home address. WTF?  OK, shove it all in; I’ve got nothing to hide.

The burning question is: am I eligible to sign such a thing?  The forms ask for a professional person, or someone with standing in the community (I don’t recollect the exact words, but it’s a fairly common type of formulation in the UK).  Examples cited are people like a doctor, lawyer, or minister of religion.  Well, I’m certainly not a person of standing in the community, nor is it clear to me whether a software engineer counts as a professional person in this class-ridden society.

I’ve ranted before about the ‘merkin obsession with notaries.  But this is the kind of case where having a notary to countersign would seem to make much more sense than some vague handwaving class-based criteria for eligibility[1].  Except … what if you don’t happen to know a notary (maybe you recently moved to a different region of the country)?  But in the UK, that could be a problem too: you come from a solid working-class background, you may struggle to think of a professional person among your friends, and have to try and pluck up courage to go to someone you don’t really know.  Does that make today’s form class discrimination?

[1] and if we used notaries for this kind of thing, there would be a lot more notaries, and competition would ensure their services were much cheaper and more readily available.  As is the case in the USA.

Posted on March 15, 2008, in red tape, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. As I understand it any one with an honours degree can sign. So the question is really is education still a class issue?

  2. So in the UK it is “who you know” ie someone of professional standing or similar; and in the US it is “how much you can afford to pay” ie the notary. Hardly non-discriminatory in either case.

    Now, back here in England, we have the worst of both worlds, because I understand that many family doctors (allegedly professional people of standing) actually charge their patients for certifying passport forms or similar even though the taxpayer at large pays them handsomely already simply for having these patients on their books.

    If anyone I’ve known personally for over two years is reading this, I’ll certify your passport application for the price of a couple of pints of decent ale – after all, everyone’s photo looks the same after enough Doom Bar or similar brew. I’ve got a degree or two (thanks for the tip, Chris), I belong to an obscure professional institute and, in my current role, I’m technically a civil servant which also qualifies as a professional person according to passport regulations, although those that know me will probably say that I’m neither civil nor servile!

    BTW Nick, you could have tried the “minister of religion” route, given your status as an Apache Guru!

  3. Hi Niq – I absolutely think that you are a person of standing in the community. While I’m not a lawyer and don’t condone those types of statements in legal forms, I usually interpret them as being included because they make a limited amount of “sense”.

    The statements in a way free judges from black and white rules (like specifying the exact jobs you must have to be a co-signer, where jobs and their stature change over time), and pass the buck to lawyers to argue, if they so desire, whether or not someone is authorized to be a co-signer. There are a lot of common sense laws here in the states like that. Some old ones still make sense, some old ones don’t make any sense but no one cares enough to update them, or they have been changed because they didn’t make sense anymore, or needed more clarity.

    For what its worth, I would argue that a software developer (esp an open source developer) is an upstanding member of the community. But that might just be my experience with holding my foot down here in the US. I’ve heard that in the UK people are judged by their accents, and while that is somewhat the case here in the US, its more about locality than caste.

    Anyway, I visited your site today to let you know I just tried out your html proxy output filter and its awesome. Good work!

  4. “Well, I’m certainly not a person of standing in the community”

    Damn must have the wrong blog, I thought this the published author, and Apache guru, Nick Kew, company director, Web accessibility expert, and singer.

    I agree the whole thing is a tad vague. I think they just want someone whom it is reasonably easy for them to establish the identity of (hence Doctors and Lawyers are good, but they charge for a signature), but heck I was a scientist for the MOD, a director of a company, if they can’t track me down in government records they should be more precise about what they want or better at keeping records.

    In my case I signed for a friend, and their two young children. The passport office did follow up, and speak to me to check my identity, which I assume is because it included a couple of children. Guess you don’t find out how good they are at checking these things unless you are forging application, or try to smuggle children out of the country.

  5. Albert and Simon, spare my blushes!

    OK, I have standing in the online community. But I don’t think that’s what they’re getting at: after all, it’s my signature as an upstanding Brit that counts, while online I’m just a citizen of the world with no national allegiance. In terms of my geographical community, I’m a nobody.

  6. In the USA the cost for a Notary is Cheap, up to $10 for a signature. or for convenience you can have a mobile notaey come to you. Now if you had a notary come to tou and were doing a loan set, it could cast $100 to $300 depending on how far a notary had to travel.

  7. Here in the USA it is getting harder to be a Notary much less find one. Because of the Slow economy Alot of the Mobile Notaries have have left this industry for other work. Places that had Notaries on premises no longer do. Because of liability alot of Banks do not even supply notaries for their transactions

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