Saturday 18 January 2020 12:35
I’m trying to fill in my Tax Return today. I don’t want to break away from working on the blog etc, but I set today aside back at the beginning of the year, knowing I need to do it on the Big Mac rather than on my iPad where I usually work, and that I’d be turning the big fella on today to record an online event. I was in the right frame of mind, but knew it wouldn’t go smoothly and that I’d be lucky to even get in to the portal where it all sits waiting for me. Two hour after my first attempt, I’m still waiting outside.
Here in the UK we have a system whereby you are allowed (maybe nowadays it’s fair to say “encouraged”) to fill in and file your Tax Return online via the Government’s website. Certainly if you’re inclined to wait until the last minute – officially 31st January following the end of the tax year the previous April – rather than get it all sensibly out of the way by the end of October, you have no choice. If you have been doing this for a few years, when you first registered for the system you would have received, in the good old fashioned snail mail, something called a Government Gateway ID – a mix of about 12 letters and numbers – unique to you, that you enter together with a password each year when you want to submit your Return.
I think two years ago, the Government – for reasons best known to somebody who doubtless had absolutely no idea how it all worked, or indeed whether it all worked smoothly already, because they had someone to file their Tax Return for them – decided to Beta Test a new system, “GOV.UK Verify”. In theory, you had the option of continuing with the old Gateway system and, not being a fan of change, I intended to do just that for as long as possible.
Now, two years ago, despite saying thank you I’d like to carry on as normal, it nevertheless responded by bombarding me with questions so it could sign me up for the new system anyway, presumably something to do with ‘Targets’. At that time I apparently failed to answer these questions correctly – imagine questions along the lines of: “Have you recently taken out a mortgage?” Me: “No.” The Govt Bot: “That was not the correct answer. Let’s try another question.”! (Actually only now does the phrase “identity theft” occur to me. Oh good. Another thing to worry about.) Regardless of this I did eventually persuade it to go and bother somebody else, and it let me in through the old tried and trusted Gateway.
So, for the last two years I’ve carried on as usual. It’s all, eventually, gone pretty smoothly and I’ve been able to inform them via endless forms and tick boxes that I haven’t earned enough to keep a sparrow fed, let alone pay any tax. I’ve saved my copy as instructed, filed it away, heaved a sigh of relief and not given it another thought until, well, round about now.
Knowing I was yet to bite the bullet, a few days ago I had a call from a friend who’d tried getting through the dastardly Government Gateway to file his Return, and been confounded at every step. So today I wasn’t expecting smooth, and was surprised, but luckily not convinced, when it did begin to sail through all the log in steps without incident. I took a screenshot of every step as a record (an OCD thing that has helped me countless times and I would recommend to everybody), expecting the next time I hit “Continue” to be the one where the alarm sirens sounded and the portcullis slammed earthwards, skewering my feet to the ground!
It accepted my Gateway ID and password, told me who I was – it even said “Good morning” – and asked me to confirm my email address (which it told me and then asked me to type in, oh well). The necessary email popped up immediately in my Inbox, I copied and pasted the code it contained, took a screenshot, hit Continue again and cried “Oh heck where’s my phone!” as it got just a bit too competent and immediately told me it was at that very moment ringing me on the number it had stored for me to give me an “Access Code”. Momentary mad dash around the house, found the phone, “Where’s a pen!” – found a pen, couldn’t get the lid off, found a PENCIL, scribbled down the Access Code; pressed 1 to have it repeated twice more just in case, entered the Access Code, took a screenshot, hit Continue… found myself staring back at the very first Log In screen.
Now maybe I am not quite as cynical as I think I am, because I really did think by that time that everything would be fine. I could discern a degree of logic in it requesting I enter my Gateway ID and password again at this point, just a final, final, final confirmation that I’m not someone else who’s sat down in front of the screen while the real me has dashed off to the loo or been dragged away by the men in white coats. So I happily typed it all in again, and hit Submit…
And the screen reloaded looking exactly the same but blank, that is once again without my Gateway ID and password in the little boxes.
Of course I thought it was a real possibility that I was hallucinating by this time, so I typed them in again (again), hit Submit (again), and (again) found myself staring at “Enter your Gateway ID and Password and then click Submit”.
There was nothing I could do! No “If this isn’t working click here.”. There was an option of “Help” (oddly without several exclamation marks after it), so I clicked on that and it gave me a form (good oh, another form) to fill in with a place to comment and explain why I was about to throw my computer out of the window. I typed, deleted most of it judging that using bad language or personal threats to the Government perhaps wasn’t wise, certainly at this stage of my life, and retyped it politely, detailing exactly what had happened (as succinctly as I could, although – you may have already guessed this – I don’t find “succinct” easy; it’s an ADHD thing). I took a screenshot, I clicked on Submit, and was reduced to emitting a stream of very bad language as I read, “Thank you. We will be in touch within 2 days.”. Two days!!!
Now, after getting this all off my chest in here, having drunk a gallon or so of very strong black coffee, and fortified by about half a loaf’s worth of toast and jam, I’m heading back in to see, wisely or otherwise, whether I can sign up for the new “Beta Testing GOV.UK Verify” way of getting in instead.
If it asks me which school my 5-year old child goes to, I shall know I’m wasting my time.
Don’t wait up. I may be gone sometime…