Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Computer says no…

You know that character in Little Britain – bespectacled middle-aged woman in a blouse and vest with long greasy hair sitting behind a desk who can’t possibly help because “computer says no”.

Before the character was never more than a humorous skit, but after moving to London the uninterested, unhelpful customer service representative is a frightening reality.

As a former civil servant, I know just how hard the majority of these people work, well in New Zealand at least. I will never again complain about waiting in line for the IRD call centre.

It began even before we left for overseas.

Applying for a Youth Mobility Visa takes time. Fill in a form, scan your fingerprints then send everything off along with your passport, a return envelope and $300 to Canberra.

One month later and no sign of my Visa I emailed the UK Visa office. Several days later I get an email back saying my Visa has been approved, but there was no return envelope. Now, I knew I’d sent one, but rather than get into an email battle went down to the post office and sent a second envelope to Australia. Finally, a couple of days later what should appear in my letterbox but my passport complete with Visa in my original envelope!


One of the first things you have to do when you want to work in the UK is set up a National Insurance number – it’s kind of like a tax and an ACC payment all in one.

On our forth day in the country I rang up the NI Office and after a few basic questions a pack of forms were make their way from Scotland to Chiswick.

Now, it was slightly for a more complicated for Nick. Being a British Citizen he had to visit the NI office and have an interview in just under a month’s time

My package arrived quite quickly and two days later they were heading back to Scotland.

I followed Nick to his NI interview for moral support. It was a wet and chilly London day as we travelled 45mins on the tube. The interviews take place in a giant, open office – no privacy here – you can easily listen in on the various personal interviews going on around you.

“Now is that your FIRST name or your LAST name?”

The lovely reception lady took a look at Nick’s form.

“It’s nice to have an easy name for once,” she said only half joking.

Shortly Nick was taken to one of the 15 or so desks.

“How long have you been in the UK? How did you get a British Passport? Where are you living? Now, I’ve just got to get my supervisor to check these and I’ll have them back to you in 15minutes.”

One hour later Nick has his documents and an NI number should arrive in two weeks.

Over one month later there is no sign of my own number so I pick up the phone and ring Scotland.

“I’ve been waiting for over a month and was wondering where my number is?”

“Reference number please….okay, it (the computer) says your application was received too late so it was cancelled. You’ll have to ring the mainline again and make an appointment.”

“But I sent it just two days after I got it?!”

“Well, there’s nothing I can do you have to make an appointment.”

It turns out I don’t need an appointment just another set of forms. I asked if there was anyway to get them to Scotland quicker so they don’t arrive late, sadly there’s not.

“Hopefully they’ll arrive quicker this time.”

Hopefully indeed.

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