Friday, August 10, 2007

Adventures in Bureaucracy

Around this time last year, I signed up for the driving test in a Dublin testing centre. At the time, the posted waiting time to get a test at Churchtown was something like 54 weeks. My provisional was set to expire in the middle of September 2007, so it seemed like I would get the test in with a few weeks to spare. (Even if you fail the test, your second provisional license entitles you to drive alone. I think this may be the only country in the world where you can fail a driving test, get in your car, and drive away unaccompanied.)

When we moved to the Middle of Nowhere in January, I rang up the government office that handles tests and requested that they change my test centre to Skibbereen and also change my address. The woman took my information and told me I was going to the back of the waiting list at the new test centre. Fair enough, the wait for Skibbereen was a more reasonable 20 weeks and I also got my employer to send a letter to speed up my test. You really can't live in the Middle of Nowhere without driving nearly everywhere.

For the first two or three weeks after the letter was sent, I was like a kid who has sent off her four proofs-of-purchase for the toy advertised on the cereal box and is waiting to be the first kid on her block to collect 'em, trade 'em, race 'em. But no word from the test place. As the months wore on, I remarked on this to Peter and also to some co-workers and the response was always the same "This is Ireland, what do you expect?"

After waiting for Skibbereen for at least 28 weeks, I started to suspect that something must have gone wrong. So I rang the government office and was told that my test was one of thousands that was outsourced to a private company. The government office could no longer help me, I'd have to ring the outsourcers. So I rang the outsourcers and was first told that I had been sent notification on 6 February for a test, but that the file had been returned to the Department of Transport because my address was wrong.

I was mystified by this. Even if the notice went to my last address, Peter was still spending most of his time there. I should have gotten anything that they posted. The outsourcer was very apologetic and said that I should call their Help Line number, which turned out to be the number for the government office, who had already told me to ring the outsourcer. My blood pressure numbers were starting to rise, but then the woman told me that within two weeks, I could expect to receive notification of a new test date. Grand.

The next day, I rang back the government office because they're meant to be sending me instructions on what to do if my first provisional expires before my test and I realised they might also have the wrong address. When I spoke to someone there, I found that they did have the wrong address, so she took down my new address and said that she would pass that along to the person who is responsible for handling such things. I didn't bother asking why she could pull up my file but couldn't change my address. Apparently, not only is her ability to do things to my file greatly reduced because I'm now outsourced, they also have some fairly inefficient work practises. Ah well, what do I expect, right, it is the government.

Starting to have doubts about this whole process, I rang back the outsourcing people. This time, a different person told me an entirely different story. It seems that I had a confirmed appointment back in January and that I was a no show, so my file was returned to the Department of Transport and I would have to reschedule the test with them. I explained that I was now trapped in a sort of vicious bureacratic limbo - the government refers me to the outsourcer and the outsourcer refers me to the government and no one will change anything in my file unless I reapply for the test, which would cost me another 38 euro, which I shouldn't have to pay because I already paid it once and it's not my fault that the government can't manage to change my address and the outsourcer can't manage to send out an actual notification.

The outsourcer promised to call government driving test headquarters to determine what had happened and then ring my mobile. She did so within 20 minutes, which is the only shock in this story. What she told me, unsurprisingly, was yet a third version of events - something about me being assigned to them for testing at Deansgrange, but then my centre changed to Skibbereen so they had to send me back to the Department of Transport. So far, the only consistency in these stories has been the outsourcers washing their hands of me.

I had a brief glimmer of hope when she told me she had two numbers I could ring, one of which might help me. She rattled off the first one, which I already had committed to memory since I'd rung it at least twice already and it's a fairly simple, repetitive-type number. I asked about the second number and she said "Oh, it's really the same number, it's just that I can never remember what order the numbers come in."

Fine. I rang the government office back and explained, for the third time, my tale of woe. The woman on the other end of the phone said "Oh, yes, we have a branch that deals with the outsourcers. Let me take your contact information and I'll pass it on to them and they'll ring you back." I asked when I could expect a call back. She replied, "Well, let's see. I'm on the phone bank until lunch and then there's lunch, so they'll get your information maybe in the early afternoon. How long it takes from then, I couldn't tell you."

So, not only can the person who answers the phone not change files, she also cannot email or text or carrier pigeon messages to the unknown persons whose job it is to deal with the particular issue. She has to wait until after her shift on the phones is done, after lunch, and then, maybe the people will get the information. Or maybe, just maybe, the little slip of paper will slide out of a stack of other pieces of paper and end up on the bottom of someone's shoe.

I am beyond angry at this point. I spent nearly a year waiting patiently like a good little Soviet for absolutely nothing. No one can give me a straight answer. No one can reschedule my test. It seems that no one can change even one tiny byte of data in my file. (Or at least if they can, they aren't the ones who answer the phone and take the information.) A system staffed by rabid monkeys would have a better chance of getting the job done than these muppets.


At 10 August 2007 at 14:03, Anonymous Grannymar said...

You have a choice Ann

1. Phone Joe Duffy or

2. Take your sleeping bag and food supplies for a week and camp out in the Government office. Tell them you have no intention of leaving until you see a Senior Manager who is capable of checking your file and giving you a realistic appointment.

Have you paid for the test? If so say that you will take them to court for taking your money under false pretences.

Remember if they work for the government and you are a tax payer then they are your employees.

Keep us posted.

At 10 August 2007 at 14:30, Blogger laurie said...

at least you talked to humans.

i have a similar story that i won't go into here but suffice it to say i spent more than an hour on the phone, calling various numbers to get an appointment straightened out, and all i got, each time, was voice mail, a sweet yet businesslike voice offering me "for this option, press one. for that option, press two..."

and never once did they offer me an option that was anywhere close to what i needed.

At 13 August 2007 at 08:53, Anonymous Conortje said...

oh my god that really is enough to make you scream. Stories like this make me wonder if I want to return to Ireland after all.

At 13 August 2007 at 22:15, Blogger -Ann said...

Grannymar - Hmmm, I don't think I can handle Joe Duffy. I think I'm going to start by going to a local TD's clinic next week and seeing if he can help. I had great luck with Dublin Bus when I got the local TDs and city councillors involved. I agree with you 100% - I pay a pile of taxes and I can also be perversely patient and persistent on matters like this.

Laurie - Yeah, those automated phone systems are very annoying. I've even run into a few over here that couldn't understand my accent. Nothing ups the frustration level like having "No, I said blah blah blah" conversations with an automated phone system.

Conortje - I'd say you may have become spoiled living in a place where things tend to work. My sister-in-law told me joke once, about how Ireland hasn't capitalised on its position as the physical gateway to Europe. If the Dutch lived in Ireland, Dublin airport would be a major hub and the country would be the richest in the world. If the Irish lived in the Netherlands, they'd all drown.

At 14 August 2007 at 05:00, Blogger Kaycie said...

Bless your heart. We recently got my daughter's permit and six months later, her license. It was a very large headache involving multiple trips, but it did not take a year.

Good luck!


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