Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Passport to Pimlico

It's with amusing irony that contact with the Passport and Identity Service is one of the most de-humanising experiences I've had.  Take for instance:

I ring the telephone number to book an appointment.  The message comes up that the service is busy and if I press 2 they will call me back.  I press 2, I get the message that I am ringing out of hours and must call back later.  I was ringing at 11.00 in the morning.  I ring back and hold on and hold on and hold on until I am told that I am being transferred to the call back service.  I get the message that "This service is not available" before the line goes dead.  I repeat the process several times.  In fact a lot of times.  Eventually, some hours and many coffees later, I get through.

"Hello I'd like to book a Premium Service 4 hour passport appointment"

"We've no appointments for two and a half weeks"

"Well in that case, you're not really offering a premium service are you...I could send off for one in that sort of timescale.  You seem to be under-resourced"

"No if you send off it will be three weeks.  We are not under-resourced.  It's a matter of time availability"

"Well. do you understand that if you recruit another person, that's another 8 hours a day you can use to process applications. If you add two people, that's sixteen hours.  Can you see that if you add resources, you can process more?"

"It's not a resource problem.  We're busy.  This is a busy time of year."

If you've ever been to the Passport Office in Pimlico you are confronted by a building that no matter how you tried, you could not select a more inappropriate building.  Firstly, do not arrive early as you will be turned away...don't argue with the security guards, they are worse than the bouncers at Tiffany's Night Club.

When you get in they have managed to squeeze a security scanner,    reception desk and a queue of about one hundred people into a space the size of our downstairs toilet.  Once through, you must go up to the second floor clutching your number tightly in your sweaty hand.  I'm a number not a name evidently.  Not in the lift as a burly guard protects it from anyone foolish enough to want to save their legs.  Once on the second floor there is a waiting area.  There is one seat that is placed to allow you to see the electronic sign which lets you know when your number has been called.  Everyone else has to keep jumping up to check.  Your 10.45 appointment will roll around at about 10.45.  However you are not allowed to wait, from out the back because from out the back comes a fearsome lady and her henchman who will call a series of numbers.  Dutifully the people who hold these numbers stand up and are told to line up against the wall for ten to fifteen minutes before another disembodied voice calls them to a counter.  Once there, the clerk doesn't look at the applicant in the eye once...a brief glance just to check the photo bears more than a passing resemblance to the person standing in front of them.  Your form is stamped and you are then sent to stand in another queue to pay.  In a row of more than a dozen counters, just one is occupied by a cashier.

And as you leave, you can glance to your right and catch this sight:

The Passport and Identity Service is indeed "Out of Order"