There is no doubt in my mind that there are few things as frustrating as interacting with the inflexible processes of a government department. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the local Council or a Federal Government department, there seems to be no shortage of ways that your time can be wasted and your blood pressure raised.
My latest experience was with the Family Assistance Office. Mrsdave and I had finally got around to doing our tax last week, which also meant we’d gone through the annual claim for our family tax benefit. We’ve always done this at tax time as it avoids miscalculating my earnings and ending up with a bill from the FAO, but as of next year that’s no longer an option because the ATO has decided to remove itself from the welfare system.
In light of this, we decided to call up the FAO and change to regular payments, estimating our income on the conservative side to be safe. Mrsdave wasn’t feeling particularly well, so I made the phone call and went through the interview process. This was all fairly painless, I downloaded, printed and filled out the relevant form to take into the local office and figured that all was well.
I was wrong.
I strode confidently to the counter, form in hand, knowing that I had crossed every relevant box, signed the right box and had Mrsdave do the same and would soon be on my way. The FAO Officer had other ideas.
“Why are you claiming this payment?”
“Well we always claim it with our tax, but we can’t do that anymore so we want to switch to regular payments.”
“But Mrsdave has made all the claims in the past.”
“And now you’re making the claim?”
“But you’re not the customer.”
It was upon hearing the ‘C’ word that I knew this interaction was about to go downhill.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Well Mrsdave is the customer, you’re not.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“You can’t both be customers.” She said this in a tone that implied she felt I was trying to undo one of the basic laws of the universe.
“OK, well, I’ve done the interview and I have the form here, how about we just make me the customer instead?” I felt a rising tide of exasperation at this point.
“Well we could make you the customer, I suppose, but we normally don’t.”
I really should have just walked out at this point, but I’d already invested enough time that I felt the need to fight on.
“Let’s do that then, I’ll be the customer.”
“Ok then, we need the children’s birth certificates and immunisation records.”
Let me reiterate at this point that I was simply there to drop off a form.
“But aren’t those details already in the system?”
“Not on your customer profile.”
“Are they on Mrsdave’s customer profile?”
“Then can’t you simply copy them across?”
The next thing was one of the stupidest questions that I’ve ever asked, and I knew it as soon as the word left my mouth.
Questioning the veracity of what appeared to be a silly policy infuriated the Vogonesque counter lady.
“We only have one customer for each family and that shouldn’t change, the children are on the mother’s file and then she does all the interactions with us, she’s the customer and that’s the way it’s normally done.” She spat.
Sensing that this wasn’t going to get any better I decided to cut my losses, “OK then. I’ll just take the form back, I’ll get Mrsdave to sit through the phone interview, fill out another form and I’ll get her to come down here.”
I thought this would be the end of it, but the counter lady obviously had decided that I needed to be punished for attempting to upset the natural order. Clutching my form she announced,
“I don’t think we can help you, but I’ll just make a few calls.”
I looked at my watch, resigned myself to the fact that I would be late for my next appointment and that everyone in the queue would be silently hating me for ‘hogging’ the counter.
The counter lady called a few people, made some small talk, confided in the unseen person from annoyance central about the crazy man who would no doubt switch gravity off if he could, simply to be difficult, and finally returned to the stool at her counter, typed a few things into her terminal and announced.
“We can’t really help you. Either you’ll have to change everything over and bring in the birth certificates and all of the other documents. Or you’ll have to get Mrsdave to sit through the phone interview, fill out another form and come down here.”
I took the form and drudged off. Fittingly, it had begun to rain and the grey skies matched my mood perfectly.