I completed the Household Charge Registration Form; husband, the householder, signed it. I wrote a cheque for E100, and went to the offices of the South Tipperary County Council on 2nd March. There, I joined a small queue at the reception office, handed over the document and the cheque, spoke a few pleasantries about the lovely weather, was given, in return, a piece of paper marked “Acknowledgement Slip,” exchanged joint thank-yous and left.
Daft, though it may sound, I believe we Irish people, have a duty to pay our taxes, and the household charge is a return to the local taxation which, those of us who are older, remember as Rates. These were abolished in 1978 in a cynical vote-buying exercise by a now discredited political party. And I am unaffected by the equally cynical campaign by politicians who now advocate the non-payment of the E100 in the pursuit of populism.
The acknowledgement slip which I received in the County Council offices stated that the registration form would be forwarded “to the Central Bureau for processing and an official receipt will be issued to you for your own records in due course.”
I didn’t anticipate that that official receipt would clog my computer with pages and pages of documentation. Here, let me confess that I have a limited competency in computers. I can do what I want to do, otherwise I choose to cultivate ignorance. However, in the registration form, I completed the section which asked for e-mail address. I presumed this was another leg to identification, the alternative to which was the name of my pet dog - and I don’t have a dog.
Ten days following payment, I received (on 12th March) a three-page document on my computer. It opened with a friendly ‘Hello’ to the householder (husband) and it allocated a “temporary password” - eight figures in all. This was just Page 1. There followed two further pages which purported to be in the first national language - Irish, giving, we presumed, further information.
I say “presumed” because householder and I (and we still retain a cúpla focail as Gaeilge), are perplexed by it. If I could (but I can’t), I would try to reproduce a sentence or two here, but it defeats me, so what follows is a description in words of what I can only call gobbledegook, a mumbo-jumbo of vaguely familiar words, though so factured that they make little sense.
Imagine if you can (and I know it defies imagination) a script where most of the letter As, even when written internally in words, are in the upper case, underneath a wavy line. Include words which are intercepted by inverted exclamation marks, with intrusive lower-case letters “a, c and o” some surrounded by circles. Throw in the figures 3 and 5 here and there in what, one can only conclude is some sort of claptrap computer/civil servant-ese language, that would make the sainted Dineen turn in his grave.
Some hours later, on the same day (12th March), there followed yet another three-page document, which now gave an Account Reference Number and a Verification Code in a combination of 36 letters and figures, followed by two further pages of the obscure language which I have above described.
I put all six pages, plus the acknowledgement page from the County Council, into a folder and hoped I would never have to refer to them again. But, three days later (15th March) there was another tranche of documents on my computer.
This again, was a three-page document, quoting a Receipt for Payment Code, a combination of 12 letters and numbers. It now assured householder that we had been registered for the Household Charge System. “We have received successful payment for your Household Charge Property.” There followed a further two pages of splintered words and inexplicable upper-cases and tiny circles, all too much for ageing brains and fading eyesight.
I now have a file of 10 pages confirming that I did, what I know I have done, three weeks ago, in the offices of South Tipperary County Council. All of this documentation has come courtesy of The Household Charge Team - BEMOOI, and it assures householder that the team remains his “sincerely.”
Dear BEMOOI, thanks but stop! Your over-zealous response to the payment of a charge which this household regards as a civic obligation, only raises questions which you, as public servants, will not like to hear. Such as: Whatever happened to the Croke Park Agreement? Ordinary people, not in the public pay, were under the impression that this was designed to bring more efficiency into the public system. That it would introduce economy and simplicity into how the public did business with the ordinary person in the street. That it would disentangle the miles of red tape. And that the result would be a considerable saving of money.
It would be difficult not to contrast the above paper-laden trail with the normal experience of doing business in the private sector, where a receipt and confirmation is normally contained on a small piece of paper, including names, addresses, a date and reference number.
There is one more question, to which I know there will be no answer: what proportion of the E100 Household Charge has had to be spent on processing, computing, “papering,” and in the official desecration of our first national language?