Wednesday 6 April 2005

Dealing with the bloody government.

Just sent this to the DVLNI:


I am currently trying to apply to exchange my GB licence for an NI license. Since I have answered yes to one of the application form's health questions, I require a medical questionnaire before I can submit the application. I have asked for this questionnaire repeatedly: this is the third time I have emailed you: the first time, I was told it would be sent, but it wasn't; the second time, I simply received no response at all. I have also tried phoning your offices, almost always to get an engaged tone, but sometimes to get through to someone who fails to send me the questionnaire.

I understand that you reserve the right to fine me £1000 for not having completed this application, so perhaps you can understand my increasing exasperation that you are not allowing me to do so.

[Details of health problem so that they send me the right form.] Please send me the appropriate form immediately or contact me to explain why you will not do so.

Thank you very much for your help.

The DVLNI are, even by the standards of government agencies, utter pains in the arse. Come to think of it, I never did blog about last year's MOT fiasco.

Most of the mechanics who work in Northern Ireland's MOT test centres were striking for most of last year. (Note to non-UK readers: the MOT is the annual test the government do on any car over four years old to say that it's roadworthy.) Thousands of MOTs were cancelled, appointments being pushed back by four or five months — and then, usually, the new appointments would be cancelled or postponed too. We ended up getting our car MOT'd about ten months after the original appointment date.

Now, as long as you had the letter saying that your appointment had been postponed through no fault of your own, you were allowed to drive without an MOT. That's fair enough. Thing is, though, by law, you can't buy car tax without a valid MOT certificate. The DVLNI's official position on this problem was this: no, you are still not allowed to tax your car without a valid MOT; no, you are still not allowed to drive your car on a public road unless it is taxed; no, there are no exceptions; the police wil consider each case of tax evasion on its individual merits but we must advise you not to drive your car without tax, as that would be illegal. Oh, and, by the way, when we finally get round to doing your MOT, you must back-date your car tax, so you will be paying for the period during which we might arrest you for not paying. Remember, this was affecting thousands of people. If they'd all obeyed the law, the economy would have ground to a halt.

Eventually, after much public pressure, they gave in and issued exemption certificates, effectively making it legal for people whose MOTs had been cancelled to drive without tax. But, for the first six months or so of last year, their position was that they would refuse to sell you tax and they would reserve the right to therefore prosecute you for tax evasion. Personally, I think "evasion" implies, well, evasion. Repeatedly trying to pay tax to a government who refuse to take the money is not tax evasion. The DVLNI disagree.

All of which fills me with optimism about what's going to happen with this driving license application.


Hello again.

I just called your offices on 028 70341469 and, very unusually, didn't get an engaged tone. A recorded announcement told me that my expected wait time was 4 minutes; it turned out to be 9. I know that queue speeds aren't precisely predictable, but that's extremely inaccurate. When I got through to one of your staff, he asked me whether I was calling about a bus, lorry, or car; when I said car, he immediately put me through to a different line, where a new recorded announcement told me that my expected wait time was 19 minutes. 19 minutes would be too long anyway, but, assuming a similar level of accuracy for this announcement as for the previous one, that would mean a wait of over 40 minutes, which is ridiculous.

Had I got through in the first instance to an announcement that told me the real expected wait time of 50 minutes, I would simply have hung up. Instead, thanks to your inaccurate information and your policy of making customers queue to get through to a second queue, I have wasted 10 minutes on the phone to your offices with — yet again — nothing to show for it.

All I need, as I have told you many times before, is for you to send me one form. Why is this so difficult? Please provide me with an explanation.

Further update:

That was lucky: I must have got through just seconds after everyone else hung up in disgust, and I got through to someone dead quickly. She asked me whether I was calling about a bus, lorry, or car; I replied that I would hang up if she attempted to transfer me to a twenty-minute queue like her colleague did earlier and that I had been trying to apply for my license for months and couldn't believe that getting hold of one simple form was so difficult. She said that they don't actually have the forms for cars in her office (why on Earth not?). I asked her whether it was possible for her to pass a message to the people who do have the forms in their office. That got her. To be fair to her, she was quite helpful, and says that someone will either send me the form or phone me. To be fair to me, I've heard that one before. I can't say for sure that she was helpful; she sounded helpful. We shall see.

Yet another update:

He said, "I'm going to cut off the bottom of one of your trouser-legs and put it in the library." I thought, there's a turn-up for the books.

And here is a turn-up for the books: someone called me back and then really did send me the form. I know they did, because I have now received it. I am simply dizzy with excitement.

It's tempting to describe this service as "prompt", but of course it isn't. They have promptly and efficiently responded to my umpteenth request, having ignored or screwed up all the previous ones.

I've got responses to both emails, too:

mr reeves
apologies for the delay in sending out the medical form you requested previously. i've passed a copy of your e-mail today to the manager in our medical section to action immediately

It's not entirely clear, but I think I detect a hint of recollection of one of my previous requests. Anyhow, it's an apology and a promise to let their managers know that they've fucked up, and you can't say fairer than that. Looks like I'll be receiving a second copy of the form, now, too.

And here's the other one:

Mr Reeves,
Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience you have most certainly been caused. DVLNI are continually striving to improve customer services and the telephone system is currently under review.The number you rang was the driver licensing section.If you need an application form please let me know and I will have one posted to you.I will also pass the email to driver licensing customer services section where your complaint will be recorded.If you have any further enquiries please contact me.

Again, I can't really criticise that; it's a perfectly good apology, with no silly excuse-making in it — although, come to think of it, no sign of the explanation I asked for. Still, I shall respond graciously.

Does anyone at DVLNI read this blog, I wonder? I seem to get much better service from them when I blog about it.

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