Broken bureaucracy

We see evidence of Britain breaking under the strain of under-investment and neglect every evening on our news. However, it’s not just in the NHS, our railways and policing where services are broken. Less visible services are also dysfunctional. For instance, the quest to replace my car log, lost in my recent move, has been an eye-opening reminder of how poor and user unfriendly much of our public service bureaucracy is.

I started where most of us start these days, on the Internet. The government’s website explains that as I have both lost my V5C and changed my address, I cannot apply online or over the phone. I have to fill out a form (V62) and send it in. I decided to phone the DVLA to double-check that I had the procedure correct.

The woman I spoke to was friendly and helpful. She explained my choices are to download and print it out or to collect one from the Post Office and fill it in. Fortunately, I have a printer, though many people do not. There was no procedure to submit the form electronically. She also reminded me I needed to pay £25. I asked how that should be done.

“You can either send in a cheque or a Postal Order.”

I paused, incredulous.

A cheque.

I can’t remember when my bank last issued me with a cheque book. I’ve always thought them a useful way to send money to friends and family, but I have probably cashed less than one a year for the last decade and haven’t written one for almost two. As for Postal Orders, I can’t remember the last time I used them. I mentioned it all felt very 1990s and she laughed, awkwardly. Apparently, they couldn’t accept cash but it was perfectly okay for someone else to write the cheque on my behalf.

Really? You go through all this detailed bureaucracy but will take payment in anyone’s name?

Having printed and filled out V62 in my almost illegible handwriting, and having spent half an hour hunting inside the engine for the chassis number and made a couple of mistakes, I decided I would pick up a form from the local Post Office and copy out the details, hopefully in a neater fashion.

Arriving at the Post Office, the chap at the counter explained they were too small to have forms to do with cars and that I would need to go into the city or out to the next town. Never mind that this Post Office serves thousands of households, most with more than one vehicle. Cursing under my breath, I double-checked they could do Postal Orders and headed back home to print a second version of V62.

Finally, the second form in hand, I went back to the Post Office and ordered the Postal Order. It was a different guy who explained that I would have to pay in cash (!). However, they could do a cash withdrawal on my card (!!) and pay for the Postal Order with that. I needed an envelope and was ready to pay for one – but he said there was no need to pay. It was a Post Office envelope and therefore free. Finally, there was an administrative charge for my Postal Order – just over £3.

Reflecting on the process, there is so much that is broken or that doesn’t make sense, or that could be done so much more effectively.

Why can’t I replace my logbook and change my address online?

Why do I have to print a PDF or collect from the Post Office, instead of complete online?

Why does a government agency only take cheques or Postal Orders and make no facility for online or phone payments?

Why does a Post Office not have critical forms or at least the facility to print them for those with no printer?

Why does it cost £3 to print a Postal Order? (Why are we still using Postal Orders!)

And why are Post Office envelopes free? (You don’t need to lick them either, apparently, which – according to the chap at the counter – saves on spit.)

So much of our bureaucracy is broken. Or mad.