Government saving – plain English?

I’ve been thinking recently, that is the government wants to save money, they could do so by making their documents easier to read.

A few days ago I received a letter from HM Revenue and Customs. I say letter – it was one piece of paper, about half the size of A5, in an envelope. On both the front and back of the envelope, it told me I could arrange payments online, via Direct Debit.

Inside, the piece of paper said:

The entire letter.

Well how nice to receive a letter from HMRC. What do I do with it?

I don’t think I’ve had one of these before, and from the “please quote the full reference when you write or call” and the constant mentioning of paying by Direct Debit all over the envelope, I assumed I owed them money. I phoned immediately (OK – I waited a few days first), sat on hold while a recorded message told me repeatedly that I could do most things via the website, before a slightly grumpy* woman told me I didn’t owe them money and didn’t have to do anything with it.

(*She was slightly grumpy as, despite the number being an 0845, I phoned using the saynoto0870 system, which dialed a different number (HMRC’s website lists it as for international callers). Apparently this means I come through to a different department or something, and by rights I should be cut off (she told me as such). She dealt with my problem anyway, but wasn’t happy about it.)

This isn’t the only example of this, either. When you stop claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, they send you a letter which explains they can’t pay you any more (because you’ve stopped claiming) while also verifying all the bank details they won’t be using to not pay you, the terms and conditions of claiming like you’re not doing, along with what to do if you think they’ve made a mistake in their decision to stop paying you, after you told them to stop paying you.

I wonder how many staff hours are wasted by queries from members of the public asking what the bloody hell they’re meant to do, after they receive a letter written in such a stupid manner? I can only hazard a guess that it is a lot, based on how long I have to spend on hold every time I phone any government department.

There’s clearly the potential to make savings by doing things online, but not if you’re going to do it like I’ve used the site twice this week, and once found a broken link, and the other time kept getting redirected to a page written in Welsh. And to get to that page in Welsh, I had to OK past several browser warnings about out-of-date security certificates. This was a major section of the site, linked from their home page. It’s just not good enough.

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