It’s quicker and easier to complete tasks online, isn’t it? I can shop, renew car tax, shift money around (mostly robbing Peter to pay Paul) read reviews, carry out research, keep in touch, make appointments – the list is almost endless.
In addition, it’s simpler. Yes? Not always.
Barry had to fill in a Self Assessment income tax return. He logged in to the site and began to answer the questions. When he came to the section about pension providers he duly typed in the information whereupon the process came to a halt. ‘Contact us’ or ‘Help’, however it was named, provided a telephone number and he phoned it to join a long, looonnnnnggg queue – I believe it took around half an hour to travel from the bottom of the line to the top.
That was all right though because he was able to listen to soothing music, interspersed with messages reminding him, ‘You are in a queue.’ When he eventually reached a human and explained the problem, that he had put in the required data and then been ‘frozen’ he was told they knew about the glitch. The information had to be entered with no spaces between the words and if he cared to repeat the exercise all would be well.
Unfortunately, he had been logged out because he had been ‘inactive’ for a long period. When he logged on again he found that all the data had been wiped and he had to start again. I don’t know how many help desks there are at HM Revenue and Customs but much frustration and time would be saved if a note could be inserted on the site to the effect that data should be entered without spaces. No matter that it’s gobbledygook, the computer has been (badly) programmed to read it.
It’s also quite difficult to write without leaving spaces, just as it is to speak without taking breath. Computers are clever beasts but they do take a lot of the blame for mistakes, oversights, errors, losses in data. At least that’s the case with those in public service. ‘It’s a new system,’ ‘the computer’s gone down,’ ‘we’re changing to a new computer system’ are three of the excuses most frequently heard.
Don’t blame the computers – blame the outfits that accept the lowest bids for systems that then don’t work because the people who write the programmes have not been properly briefed.