Thursday 14 August 2014

Too poor and ill for a Post Office Account?

Red filled oval with the words Post Office in white
Since the government is determined to pay everyone their benefits into a bank account these days I expected opening one of the new current accounts at the Post Office to be plain sailing, but no, something I said or ticked on the form didn't fulfil their criteria and I was sent away head hanging knowing I'd failed at yet another attempt to be a normal everyday person.

Let me explain, as you may not have read many, or indeed any of my blog posts before:

I was diagnosed with a couple of chronic illnesses about eight years ago now.  Due to my increasing tiredness and appalling sick record at work my employers attempted to 'terminate' my contract when my application for early retirement due to ill health was turned down because, according to the doctor at the local pension authority, I would be fit to return to full time work within three years.  Eventually, with support from friends, I was able to hold out for redundancy and officially left my employment in early 2011.  I hadn't been at work since the summer of 2009.  And, as you can easily calculate, I have not miraculously become well enough to work in specified time period, and even the DWP agrees I am still unfit for work, although not unfit enough to get Employment and Support Allowance beyond the one year cut off.

I am now wholly dependent on my husband (the OH) for food, clothes and a roof over my head.  This is not what he signed up for when he married me - at that point I had a good job, I even earned more than him towards the end of my job.  Fortunately we had paid off our mortagage before I was made redundant - but that's another story!

Four metal spoons in a row

These days, if I am careful and count spoons (read this article for an explanation of spoons), I can get about a bit, go to the library for a local history meeting and the Archives to do some research.  I don't go 'out' anymore, unless the OH takes me in the car, and I used to love real ale pubs and beer festivals.  This summer for the first time in 22 years I have not gone down to London to work (as a volunteer) at the biggest beer festival in Britain - the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia, because in order to qualify for the free accommodation you have to work a certain number of hours a day and I just can't manage it any more.  CAMRA, who organise the event, have been much, much more accommodating than my 'real' employers ever were, they have allowed me to work split shifts for the past three or four years so that I could go and get my head down for a few hours on an afternoon and they transferred me to a desk job about six years ago when it became apparent I just couldn't manage the hours and effort needed to be a Bar Manager any longer.  

Last year I began to give local and family history talks for a small fee, which just about covered my expenses (paper, printing, leaflets, photocopies and the OH's petrol money for taking me to Sheffield and places even further afield), and mostly I get paid by cheque.  Little local history groups and church groups don't generally keep large petty cash funds and it is perfectly usual for me to turn up and the cheque has already been written and signed and I am given it even before I begin to set up, let alone speak.  

Red filled rectangle with Santander in white and a sort of flame on a plate logo.

 At the end of June our local branch of Santander was closed, at no notice at all. We had been told it was to close in July and then apparently one afternoon in June two men turned up and closed the branch telling the staff that that was it, with no notice to them either! I had been accustomed to paying in my cheques there and any others the OH receives as the co-ordinator of his work's lottery syndicate (no, they never seem to win anything!) and as the branch was only a few hundred yards from our house it was well within my normal capability to get there.  I did ask at the local Post Office, but at that time all they could offer was envelopes for me to post the cheques to our bank's central offices.

The nearest branch of Santander is now in Barnsley, four miles and a ten to fifteen minute bus ride away, plus about a five to ten minute walk through the town centre from the bus station to the branch.  Not far on a good day, but on a bad or even on a middling day, it is a step too far for me.  So when I saw that the Post Office was going to start offering current accounts targeted at people on low incomes or on benefits I thought, "This is perfect, I'll have one of those!".  

Extra encouragement to change banks had been provided by my last couple of experiences trying to pay cheques into the branch of Santander in Barnsley town centre where they had queried my latest talk expenses cheque (for just £35) because it wasn't made out to my full name.  I am one of those not uncommon people who is known by my middle name rather than my official first name ... and the Family History Society I had spoken at had written the cheque out to the name I am known by, and as I mentioned, had it ready for me when I arrived, not that I would have thought it was necessary to get my full and precise name on the cheque ... I can easily prove I have two names - they are both on my full photo id driving licence for goodness sake and both are listed on our bank account too!  Unnecessarily fussy in my opinion. 
Three Post Office gift cards, one pink, one blue and one black in an offset pile.

The Post Office current accounts have been on trial in the north of England for some time and have just been rolled out in our area (according to the lady in the Post Office in Barnsley this morning).  I received an email yesterday  - I had registered my interest online - telling me that I could now open an account and that if I switched accounts before the end of August I would be given a £100 gift voucher.  Wow!  Free money! Yes!

I printed out my copies of my proofs of id (they now expect you to provide your own photocopies) and filled in the form for the account switch.  I was going into town today anyway to visit Barnsley Archive for a bit of First World War soldier research so I planned to call at the main post office, which had been indicated on my email, afterwards.

According to their website "Pop into one of our account-opening branches and fill in an application form. We’ll process it while you wait and aim to open your account there and then."  Hmm, that is the point it all started to go wrong.  I gave them my switching form and id documents and I said quite distinctly, "I want to open a new current account and I want to switch my present bank account to it and claim my gift voucher please."  Her first question, looking down at my part completed switching form, "Have you already opened a current account with us as I need to put your new account details on this form?" "No," I replied, "I want to do that now, as I just mentioned to you." "Oh, yes, you did say that ...."

You cannot open one of these accounts online - it says that on the website.  The lady cashier behind the counter then said to me, "Have you filled the form in online?", me, "Err, no, there was no way to do that."  Cashier, "Oh, well I'll have to ask you to fill in the form in one of our booklets", me, "Yes, OK - do you a have a chair, I'm not very good on my feet today, I am disabled".  They let me sit in the little office they have for interviews to fill in the five or six page form.  I was even given a Current Account freebie pen!  Filling the form in online would have been much more sensible, I could have typed instead of writing and it would have saved a lot of hassle for the staff.

The lady in that office looked through my form, supposedly making sure I had filled it in correctly, but then she explained that she hadn't done the training on the new accounts yet, but that they were sending her on a three day course next week (A three day course in checking peoples' forms when they open a bank account? What?)  After that I had to go back to the counter and wait to be seen again, more standing up, and wait some more while the cashier entered all the details I'd just written in the tiny boxes on the form onto her computer.  She was not qualified to check my id which was a necessary part of the process, but the lady from the office said she'd deal with that afterwards (Well, I am glad she's done that course - wonder how many days that took?)  Meanwhile I was drooping, leaning more and more on the counter, putting my head down on my bag, shuffling my feet to spread the aches and pains around a bit and hoping it would all be completed soon.

Computer Says No around the David Walliams Little Britain character sat at a computer

Then the computer said no!  The cashier explained that the system had timed out while it was checking my data and that the only option on her screen was to abandon the application.  I wasn't having that - having got there and filled in the form by hand and waited and stood up for so long wanted my new account and I wanted my £100 gift voucher!

The cashier consulted with the lady from the office - then she phoned someone.  She came back to the counter - remember that all this is happening in full public view in the middle of a busy town centre Post Office - and she began to read code numbers off the screen to the person on the other end of the phone.  I was still leaning and drooping.

Eventually she put down the phone and said that she'd been told to give me back all my forms and id and to tell me that I would be contacted within ten working days with a decision on my application.  Oh, yeh!  "Did I fail the credit check?" I said.  "Oh, no," she said, "The system just timed out checking your application."  "What does that mean?" I asked.  "Oh, it's just the system, I don't know." she replied. I protested that in two weeks ('cos ten working days is a fortnight) I would have timed out for qualifying for the gift voucher as that application needed to be made before the end of August.  She took me and my forms back to the lady in the office ... who said the same things, reassuring me that next week, after she had done the training, she would be able to sort out my problems if I didn't get a response within the ten working days.  

Err, my gift voucher ... the email, only sent yesterday ... less than two weeks deadline ... sort out my new account there and then ... I tried and tried but to be honest both ladies were powerless, the computer had said no! and that was it.

So I came home and wrote a blog post about it ... as it helps stop me crying.

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