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When e-government goes bad

A story from one of my favourite internet sources. Special prize to anyone who can guess the country without googling.
A friend who wanted to register his company for VAT, decided to try doing this through the internet. After a Google search he was directed to the government portal and to his surprise found the VAT registration form 101; he was impressed that there was even an option to add the relevant attachments to the form.

He filled out the form, but when he tried to submit it the website gave him the message that the operation could not be completed. He pressed the ‘Submit’ command a few more times but every time he got the message that the submission could not be completed. 

To establish what the problem was, he called the VAT service and informed an employee what had happened and asked whether the system was down or there was something else he should have done. He would not have been treated with more rudeness if he had asked to sleep with the official’s wife. 

The irritating member of the public was condescendingly told there was no such web-service, he did not know what he was talking about and that if he wanted to submit Form 101, he had to go to the VAT service in person and fill it in by hand. The rude official made one concession to our friend – he put him through to his superior.

Polite and helpful, in stark contrast to his subordinate, the manager expressed genuine surprise to hear about the existence of electronic forms. Our friend gave him the web-address so he could check out for himself and after a couple of minutes the startled manager apologised for the inconvenience caused. 

He was in charge of the registration service, he said, but did not know the VAT forms were available in electronic format on the internet, as nobody had informed him. Probably because it will take another three years before the government’s programmers arrange for the form to be submitted electronically.  

Our friend still had to go to the VAT office, fill in the form by hand, queue at two desks, first for someone to stamp the form and then for someone to enter it into the system.
Translation note: VAT is a sales tax charged in the European Union and some other countries.


( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 29th, 2012 10:29 am (UTC)
Alas, this could be anywhere. Of course I want to say France, but it's just as likely the UK.
Jan. 29th, 2012 10:44 am (UTC)
I would guess either France or the UK, for rather different reasons.
Jan. 29th, 2012 10:47 am (UTC)
French bureaucrats are not generally rude. Provided you speak some French they can be quite helpful. They will tell you about all the obstacles in the path of whatever you are trying to do and then actually help you to achieve your aim.

It is extremely rare to find UK bureaucrats willing to actually help you. They tell you about all the obtacles but not about how to overcome them.
Jan. 29th, 2012 10:52 am (UTC)
My first instinct says Italy.
Jan. 29th, 2012 11:28 am (UTC)
If he got to talk to the head of the registration service, it must be quite a smaller country. Not one of the 60 million people ones.
Jan. 29th, 2012 11:53 am (UTC)
Indeed, you are not wrong!
Jan. 29th, 2012 11:34 am (UTC)
Not the UK. If you try to submit a paper form here you are harrassed into finding and using the online version.
Jan. 29th, 2012 11:34 am (UTC)
(and in fact everyone is going to be required to file online, from this year).
Jan. 29th, 2012 07:13 pm (UTC)
Interesting because when I was applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain any electronic pay stub, bank statement, etc. was no good at all.
Jan. 29th, 2012 11:59 am (UTC)
No, there are a number of government forms where the preferred option is to fill it all out online... and then print it and send it in. I've encountered four of these over the last week (and I don't have a printer).
Jan. 29th, 2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
VAT forms?
Jan. 29th, 2012 05:56 pm (UTC)
Sorry, too brief: what I mean is: yes, some parts of the UK "e-government" provision is still nonexistent, but the VAT returns etc are pretty much sorted, and all users are being forced online. So I don't think this story can be about the UK.
Then there are parts of UK e-gov which suffer the worst of both these worlds, such as corporation tax: online filing is compulsory, but the online provision is always flaky and has recently got worse. I *had* to file our corporation tax by a certain date, by using a horrendous and stupidly broken PDF form, and when I went to start the process, I was presented with a message saying "sorry, the form is a bit broken at the moment, you won't be able to print out your CT return".
Jan. 30th, 2012 02:08 pm (UTC)
Tax credits at the moment: they cannot accept (or even start) online claims, but if you phone the helpline they bombard you with 10 full minutes of "you can do all this online, go away and stop clogging up our phone lines" via recorded messages...

I had trouble with a disability-related one, can't think which right now, which required me to fill it out online and then print it because you *can't* get a printed version of it without physically visiting a jobcentre. No good to anyone who is unable to visit a jobcentre (or a library, to print out the form) - which for disability-related forms is probably a high percentage of respondents.
Jan. 29th, 2012 01:16 pm (UTC)
Well, it's NOT Estonia
Jan. 29th, 2012 01:41 pm (UTC)
Jan. 29th, 2012 01:48 pm (UTC)
Hmm. Putting the form online before the submit process was developed is quite reminiscent of some experiences my mother had when we lived in the Republic of Ireland, as is the ability to speak directly to the head of the service - but the rudeness of the first official is not.
Jan. 29th, 2012 03:34 pm (UTC)
I'd guess it IS Ireland.
Jan. 29th, 2012 07:57 pm (UTC)
I don't think it can be Ireland: there seems to be no online VAT registration service (or at least none that I can find quickly).
Jan. 29th, 2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
Ah, sure and I thought we were supposed to be trying to figure it out without googling it. :)
Jan. 29th, 2012 08:29 pm (UTC)
Oops, looks like I'm disqualified then.
Jan. 29th, 2012 04:51 pm (UTC)
When will the answer be revealed?

I was going to guess Italy, but it is ruled out by comments above.
Jan. 29th, 2012 06:19 pm (UTC)
the vatican.

edit: yes, this answer is intended absurdly.

Edited at 2012-01-29 06:20 pm (UTC)
Jan. 29th, 2012 08:28 pm (UTC)
It's not the UK because the forms here work, you just have to have your user ID which is never the same number twice I swear, and of course I'm not going to remember my student ID number when the last time I used it was 5 years ago. I doubt it's Austria because I'm not sure the bureaucracy has heard of the internet - actually I'm being slightly mean but I still doubt it's them. I've never had a problem with the German forms yet.

My guess, and it's a total one, but based on friends's experiences would be Portugal.
Jan. 30th, 2012 02:10 pm (UTC)
OT, but I can remember my student ID, 12 years after I graduated. I suspect for me it's the equivalent of army number or something - embossed on my brain forever more!
Jan. 29th, 2012 08:44 pm (UTC)
Jan. 29th, 2012 09:11 pm (UTC)
I follow martin_wisse, Belgium has my vote :-)
Jan. 31st, 2012 02:38 pm (UTC)
Spain? Only because I have an LJ friend who complains about their bureacracy :)
Feb. 1st, 2012 10:26 am (UTC)
Knowing something about Belgian bureaucracy, I'd go with that answer as well.
s g
Feb. 4th, 2012 11:25 pm (UTC)
I read lately Greece has different VAT rates, depending on whether you're domestic or foreign - sounds hectic. So Greece.
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )

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