Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A penny for your thoughts

Government ministers constantly tell us that our public services are run efficiently with the minimum of waste and the lowest staffing levels possible. There isn’t an ounce of fat left on the public sector bone… or so we’re assured.

However, I refer you to the case of Mary Gibson, a fabric cutter from Nottingham who received a demand this week for 1p. That’s right, Mrs Gibson was asked to pay off a debt of £0.01 that was still outstanding from a crisis loan she took out from the Department of Social Security eight years ago. The loan was paid off in 2006 but apparently there was still a penny left on the books.

Mrs Gibson received a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions (the successor to the Department of Social Security) asking her to settle the debt by February 18. It helpfully offered to let her pay the outstanding amount in installments!

A spokeswoman for the DWP said: “While we will always pursue outstanding Social Fund loans to make sure they are fully paid, clearly on this occasion a letter should not have been sent.”

Clearly the government is still employing the wrong kind of people in parts of the public sector. Whatever happened to common sense? I suppose it’s just not that common any more.


  1. Letters like that are sent automatically. It's not like a work experience girl sat there looking at each balance and wrote a letter.

    Setup > Run > Mail Merge > "All outstanding balances" > Print.

    That's it.

    This woman really needs a hobby if this is the extent of her troubles with the DSS.

  2. And it's equally easy for the computer to ignore balances that are less than the cost of a stamp. The woman hasn't heard from them for four years! I know the government's finances are shot but this smacks of desperation.

  3. Is it equally as easy to ignore balances less than a certain amount? That feature certainly isn't available on my accounting software.

  4. I'd normally agree but it's dangerous to ignore any demands from a government department. Remember, common sense doesn't apply. If Mrs Gibson ignored the demand the computerised machine of government could have ended up affecting her credit rating. From personal experience I can tell you it's dangerous to ignore official documents, however stupid they may appear.

  5. So send them the 1p. If it were an unjust demand for hundreds of pounds that she'd already paid back I would understand the fuss.

    It's obviously too much trouble to stick a penny in an envelope and send it back but it's no trouble at all to call every newspaper in the land to yell about the injustice and "incompetance".

    Like I said, this woman should feel lucky that this is all she has to worry about in the world.

  6. So, "Bob" works for the DWP!

    I remember my now-deceased father receiving a letter (with a 31p stamp) from the DHSS informing him of a 25p a month increase in his pension.

    Civil Servants = "Fuckwits"


  7. To be fair, there are some very hard working and decent civil servants but as with all walks in life, there are some bad ones too. It's more the bureacracy that seems to encourage the bad ones to do stupid things.

  8. There was someone one year over here that received one of those letters. I think it was for $1.00 so he sent 100 pennies!

    Bob-those letters make for a good laugh and poking fun at computer systems is so much fun. Chuckle and head shake of the day.

    XTM-how goes the walking? Is outside still snowy & icy? Do be careful but keep working on it!


  9. Still not walking, Libby. The snow has gone for now but may be coming back tonight.

  10. Chris of Melbourne18 February 2010 at 05:19

    Hi XTM!
    This sort of thing happens here as well, and also in so called private enterprise.
    Our major Telco was a Government Enterprise until it got flogged off in a few tranches starting in 1997 by the Liberal Coalition, the party that fit the Oscar Wilde quote 'knows the price of everything and the value of nothing' with subsequent loss of billions in revenue after the sale of same. Their accounting might have been a hangover from previous civil service years but as well as threatening 'knee capping' for 1 cent bills the bill itself often ran into three or more pages with sod all written on them. That Computer again!
    Personally I find it incredible that the Bob's of this world are in such thrall to a programmed machine.
    Hey,it's supposed to be our tool, not an idol to be worshipped, and it's Gospel revered.
    Find a programmer if your system is pathetic.

    'C'mon leg', best wishes
    Chris from Melbourne.

    PS The Conservative vote thing is really funny,
    I've seen a couple more trolling your papers.

  11. So how much did it cost them to mail the letter in the first place ? More than 1p for sure.

  12. On a slight tangent....

    I'm currently unemployed and am looking at public service jobs as I think I could make a difference, but the endless form-filling puts me off.

    Happy to be CRB-checked (I am an adoptive Mum so have been checked out extensively already). But, when I have spent time polishing my CV, why should I have to hand-write it all into a 1970s format?

    I obviously do not have the mindset of a civil servant.