Category Archives: red tape

A tale of two agencies

Mixed experiences with two arms of the state today.

On my list of to-dos after moving was to sign up with a quack locally.  Last week I got around to googling for GP practices in the area.  It presented them nicely on the map, and I see there’s exactly one that’s genuinely local.  Looks like an easy choice, and a neighbour speaks highly of them.

So last Thursday I went round there.  They required identity documents which I didn’t have: I offered bank/credit cards, but don’t carry anything else around.  Come back with a utility bill or similar showing my address.

OK, I can do that, and today (Thursday being my usual free day during the week) I went back, bearing gas and electricity bills and a bank statement.  Nope, not sufficient: this time they insist on photo-ID.  Buggrit, why couldn’t they have told me that before?  I’m fine with them asking for it[1], but annoyed by lack of consistency.

As it happens, my old passport expires in September, and I had sent it off just last week as supporting document in my application for a new one.  So I had no photo-ID.  Looks like I’ll have to wait.

Then early afternoon today there’s a knock at the door.  Mail delivery to sign for: it’s the new passport.  So that’s taken just one week.  OK, it’s just a renewal, and I guess I’m a straightforward case ‘cos I’m easy to recognise from the ‘photo in the old passport.  But even so, they say simple renewals should expect three weeks and allow for more.  So finally I can go and sign up for a local quack.

Full marks to the passport office for efficiency.  Bottom of the class to the NHS for vagueness and inefficiency and messing me about.  OK, not exactly critical, but it seems depressingly reminiscent of when it does matter.

[1] Though it seems perverse in a country where we aren’t required to possess any form of photo ID, and not everyone has any.

Online tax returns^Werrors

Having recently struggled through my personal tax return, it appears the situation for small business tax returns is worse.  John went through the business of submitting WebThing’s return (for 2007), only to receive email a day later.  Anyone else seen this or similar, or have a clue about it?

This message has been generated in response to the company details
submitted to the Companies House Web-Filing Service on 21/10/2008.

Company number: 03427454

The annual accounts for the above company was rejected for the following reason(s):

An attached XBRL account document contains pre-validation errors.
The accounts were originally received in Companies House within the period allowed.  The Registrar will not collect a civil penalty if the amended accounts arereceived in Companies House no later than 05/11/2008 and they are accepted for filing.

Examiner contact details – 029 2038 0929

The filing reference number is ******. Please quote this reference in any communication with Companies House concerning this transaction.

Thank you for visiting the Companies House Web site.

Service desk tel: 0870 333 3636 or e-mail:

Yeah, right.  I´m techie enough to know what an .XSD is likely to be, and guess that it means something is malformed.  And that the error is internal to their system.  But what could be triggering it, in the context of a PDF where all John did was to fill some numbers and very simple text fields, I have no idea.  Neither, I suspect, has your typical small business beancounter submitting accounts online (as the government strongly encourage us to do).

I can speculate over possible causes of an error.  For example:

  • Does their system rely on some Windows quirk or bug, and choke on something like non-Windows line-ends?  Can´t see how that would arise in PDF, though, even if they have something dumb like bogus homebrew preprocessing.
  • Maybe it´s an error introduced by VAT?  Since I joined Sun in February, it´s clear that WebThing´s turnover for 2008 and the forseeable future will fall far below the VAT threshold, so we deregistered to save red tape.  But of course we were registered in 2007, so the tax return included it.  Could it be triggering inclusion of inconsistent templates?
  • Nothing so subtle – the system is just plain broken.
  • …. ?

No matter what the problem is, there´s absolutely no excuse to expose end-users to this kind of development error message beyond, at the worst, a beta test programme.  I wonder what bunch of overpaid incompetents were responsible for this one?  The Usual Culprits for public sector fuckups (EDS,  Accenture, …)?  AN Other?  WebThing could of course have done a better job for them, if contracts were awarded on technical competence rather than sharp suits and bullshit.

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.

Getting paid from the US

The book is out, but I still have a hurdle to clear before I can see any royalties. This one is the US Government, which requires me to wade through a mountain of obscure documents (thanks to my publisher for helping steer me there) and complete a form (ditto) in order to be paid royalties. Comes of having an american publisher:-(

Specifically, the publisher needs a US taxpayer number to pay me. But I’m not a US taxpayer. I’m not even eligible to be a US taxpayer. So instead, I need something called an ITIN, which involves filling a form W-7. And that form has a subtext:

You’re a scumbag perpetrating a fraud on us. We know you’re really just a stooge for someone who wants to hide money from us (though you don’t have permission to live or work in America). Taxation treaty? What taxation treaty? All your money are belong to us!

Anyway, I need to submit my passport with the form. The original [shudder], or a notarised copy.

Notarised? Yep, that means going to a Notary Public, who then signs that he’s seen me with the original passport, and it’s genuine, and it’s me. Today I went to a notary for that. Seems the underlying premise is that Notary == someone we grudgingly trust, because there’s no way we trust a scumbag like you. Yeah, great. A nice little earner for the Notary, and a PITA for anyone needing to use one.

Once upon a time, any professional person might normally have seen as trustworthy: it was the natural authority of those in the educated classes. Interesting that a country seen as having so much less of a class system than us should nevertheless have classism so ferociously enshrined into its law.

In fairness, the notary told me that notaries are ten-a-penny in America, so finding and going to one doesn’t seem such a big deal to an American.