Monday, 1 March 2010

Can the second time still be a one off experience?

Although I am not so presumptuous to assume a. that anybody will have read previous posts and b. that they will have remembered anything about them...here goes.  I posted recently about my experience with HMRC and their super call centre (please note a healthy dose of sarcasm .....) Well I realise that a bad experience can always be passed off as a one off - they were just having a bad day etc etc (although I have to say it was a very very bad day), but as the situation did not appear to have been resolved I had cause to call them again. So, full of hope and optimism, prepared to accept the 'one off bad day' line of thought regarding my first engagement I called them again.

It goes without saying that I had to  repeat absolutely everything from the previous call...at which point my readiness to believe that the last experience had actually been a 'one off' was rapidly dissapearing into the same ether that seems to be the location of HMRC customer records (because they certainly cannot be found in their new CRM system!). As the call progressed (with the first of 4 - yes 4 - members of HMRC staff on 3 seperate telephone numbers, more later) I was beginning to realise that my previous call had been a case study in efficiency by comparison.
Firstly, despite having given my national insurance number they seemed to have trouble locating me at all, let alone the actual status of any payments I have made or refunds I may be due. I was, at one point, beginning to doubt my own existence, or at best that it was a dream...a bad one. Eventually, presumably due to actually looking a little more closely at the screen, my existence insofar as HMRC was concerend, was at least acknowledged, although my entitlement to any refund, the same refund that HMRC had informed me about, in writing, the proof of which was in my hand as I spoke, was catagorically denied. And as far as the call center operator was concerend 'the computer said no', and that was that. Hmmm, maybe not - the now ever so familiar request was made, 'could I speak to somebody else please?' - I even suggested who I might speak to - the particular unit I eventually spoke to last time - who at least were able to tell me that I was (probably) due a refund. At this suggestion I was informed that there is no such unit and we then shuffled off into the surreal....I appeared to be asking to speak to a part of HMRC who, only a couple of weeks ago actually called me - but now have ceased to exist. The lovely fella on the other end of the phone then actually suggested (you'll love this) that I 'contact the police as I may be the victim of somebody trying to get money out of me by impersonating a non existent (according to him) HMRC unit. They phone me confirm confirm I am due a refund (which, admittedly, had not arrived) which is really a scam to get me to send them money...I was waiting for the guy to ask me if the HMRC staff had Nigerian accents!

I was duly given another number to call (not transferred.....) which I called...and repeated everything again, this time I asked why the system did not record any of this particular customer query, only to be told that 'we don't use the same system as the last person you spoke to and they don't talk to each other'. I was wishing I didn't have to talk to them either! I am not sure how they know they didn't use the same system as they didn't ask who I was talking to, I didn't tell them and as I had to dial a seperate number rather than be transferred they had no way of knowing...but I let that one pass. At least this person found me straight away...progress. They had a record of an amount being paid back to them from my employer...but denied the reality of the refund to which the letter from HMRC, which I had in my possesion, so clealry referred. They, I was told, have not sent me any letter, because it was not registered on 'the system'. Still feeling very 'zen' about the whole thing, and remaining remarkably calm, I asked to be put through to the non existent department, only to be told that, you guessed, it doesn't exist.

Anyway, just to get rid of me I think, they suggested I try another number (no transfer). I dialed the number and I must have entered the twilight zone because the non existent department answered the phone. They did ask me to repeat everything again because they were not on the same system as their colleagues! (actually they may have said 'in the same system' and been referring to the solar system).

This time - and this represented real progress - the fact that I was due a refund was readily acknowledged, although its whereabouts remained a mystery..so I was put through - actually transferred to another person. I assumed that the alternative universe in which the non existent, but increasingly promising, department operated had superior telephony technology. A very pleasant lady came on the line, requested my national insurance number (and that was all...) told me immediately that I was indeed due a refund, confirmed the amount, which corresponded exactly to the amount in the letter they did not send and informed me it sent sent on Feb 15th. Excellent...so where was it?  Ahh, she informed me....when I say 'sent' I mean it was approved internally at which point it began its progress through the process so I should receive it 'soon'. Knowing how to 'finish while the going was good' I thanked her and hung up, pinched myself to confirm my continued existence , was beamed back into the world of real, but relatively unhelpful departments and pondered the governments committment to NI14 - avoidance of unneccessary contact. So, although I am no statistician, I am guessing that these experiences were not one off, nor were they simply an unusually 'bad day' for HMRC and that others have had similarly interesting journeys through the new HMRC call center process....
However, applying for car tax online is a dream.

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