Sunday, March 25, 2007


Coming from Sweden, I know a thing or two about bureaucracy, you know like - banks actually work, trains run when they are supposed to run, tax returns are returned, houses can be bought and sold without a year of infinite pain, estate agents don't lie..

Almost all of the above is true. I just put in that bit about estate agents to make sure you're still with me.

Anyway, the UK has many good things about it, but a working bureaucracy it has not. Which is kind of funny, seeing that they invented the modern civil service. Still. One of the many incredibly painful things one has to suffer here is the annual renewal of the vehicle tax disk. To get this in perspective, in Sweden we also pay road tax - no surprises there I hear - and display a tax 'rectangle' that sits in the middle of the back reg plate. Every year you get this delivered in the post box automatically with a pay slip that you can pay over the counter or on line. The authorities know if you've had your vehicle MOTd, taxed and insured.

In the UK the process - until now - was somewhat more involved. Get the car MOTd on time. Fair enough. Get the car insured for the same time. Car insurance is almost as much pain as buying a house. Instead of having car insurance being a standard commodity of very little variation, the market is complex, enormous and with a huge variance. The thrifty can save quite a bit if prepared to spend a few days playing insurance companies off against eachother. Wait for insurance certificate to arrive by post, together with reams of paper. Wait for the DVLA to send you a notification that your vehicle needs to be taxed. Now the fun starts.

In any other western civilization, the licensing authority will know if a vehicle is taxed, insured and MOTd (inspected). In the UK, it's up to a post office clerk to judge. Only some post offices have the authority to issue tax disks. So you trundle down in your precious lunch hour instead of going to the gym, queue for ages, and get to deal with grumpy and incompetent spotty-faced yoof, alternatively sour-faced old hag with God complex behind the desk.

It shouldn't be that hard. Three pieces of paper that has to match, and be covering the same date range. But it is.

- Wrong insurance certificate, mate.

I look at my certificate. It's got the car reg. It's got the policy number. It's got my name on it. It's the right date range. It's paid for.

- The one you need looks exactly the same, but has a stylised signature by the insurance company chairman at the bottom.

I look over my shoulder at the long queue forming, and at my watch, now 45 minutes of queuing apparently wasted. I plead to the man's sense of good will. The form needed looks exactly the same - it's got all the details required, can't we just chalk this up as a mistake on my behalf, slap my wrist and don't do it again?

Apparently not.

So I go out to the car, swearing, to pick up the other bit of paper that I accidently left on the passenger seat, and join the back of the queue.

After 30 minutes of queuing I hand over the papers to the man again, who studiously examines the same papers - bar the insurance certificate. He looks satisfied. He rings the till.

- That'd be 180 ponds please. Will that be cash or cheque, sir?

I've already got my VISA card half way out of the wallet. Somehow, I'd failed to recall that the post office (at the time) was a credit-card free zone.

- There's a cash point just around the corner, sir. You can just about see it through the window, just beyond the end of the queue.

Anyway, those were the days.

Today, I ordered - and paid for - my new tax disk on-line. Long live the DVLA who finally entered the modern era.

1 comment:

Andy Gale said...

I have to say, I preferred the old method.

There was a certain satisfaction of successfully obtaining a tax disc at the first attempt, when others who were less able to read the instructions that came with the tax disc and didn't fully understand the nuances of the Post Office failed and had to queue up again.