Wednesday, 23 July 2008

They took my 97 quid and all I got was this! (Part 2) Updated!

With the news today that 3,000 passport workers were going on strike, I thought I'd resurrect the two posts about my experience with their service! Just so that folks can see what kind of service they are possibly going to be offered should they decided to go by the expensive, "Fast Track," or, "Premium," route!

(Here it is, again! What I got for my 97 quid!)
"Terrorist," granny in funny hat found with nail scissors in her toilet bag! OMG!!!
(That hat had a flower on it! Obviously suspect!)

So, we come to Wednesday June 11th. On that day, I decided that I'd better get my Euros and my travel insurance, since I had no idea when, between 8am and 6pm the following day, my passport would arrive. I return home with my holiday spending money and a travel insurance pack, at around 6pm. I check my messages on 1571 and I have a strange one, of which this is an accurate transcript! (Identifying details crossed out. Lots of, "ers," and, "ums," not included!)

"Hello Miss, eh, Mrs xxxxxx. This is London Identity and Passport Service. I have to give you a call regarding your forename. In your previous passport, the one that was lost, we managed to get the file and it has got your forename is xxxxxxx, your surname is (as?) xxxxxx. I am unable to add xxx....xx....xx, xxxx, Weed (sic!) because it is not in your previous passport and you have not stated in your application form on Section 8 that you wanted forenames to be added as a forename. You only wrote your old passport was lost at home somewhere. That was it. We have got to do according to the procedure for us to implement the same name, xxxxxxx xxxxxx.

If you are not happy, well you have to send me* a letter, otherwise you will not receive your passport in time. We have got to go according to the old passport, which is xxxxxxx xxxxxx.

OK. Bye bye now."

*Me? Who?

Telephone number recorded on caller ID as, "Number withheld."

Now, I had big trouble trying to understand the message this person had been trying to convey, in heavily accented English, but after listening to it quite a few times, I finally decided that from the underlined section I could extrapolate that if I was happy and I didn't send, "me," a letter, that I would get my passport on time.

OK, so now we have arrived at Thursday June 12th, the day that my £97 is supposed to guarantee delivery, by courier, of my passport! Another day off work, which I lose another day's pay for, but I really don't want to disappoint my very kind son, who has booked the trip as a treat, knowing how much I love Paris!

I am up early on the morning of Thursday June 12th, ready to receive my passport at any time from 8am onwards. Well, time grinds onwards; I have lunch and still no passport, but I'm not getting worried yet. I spend the afternoon at my PC, not concerned until around 4.30pm, I decide that I will just check to reassure myself that the passport is coming.

I phone the national number given on the Passport and Identity Service web site. I am told that my passport was printed on Wednesday, but it has not gone to the courier. This worries me somewhat, but the person on the helpline tells me to wait until 6pm, since passports are sent to the courier at regular intervals throughout the day.

At 6pm, no passport! I call the national helpline and I am told that they have no way of knowing where my passport is, only that it has not gone to the courier, and I cannot contact the London office as their phone line closes at 5pm. All I can do is call the London office after 9am on the Friday morning. This causes some upset and I ask the person how I can travel to London for a 10.30 check-in at St Pancras if I cannot even talk to anyone before 9am? I am told that this is all that can be suggested. I take up the offer to make a complaint and ask for the response in writing.

Now, if I had not found the, "Fast track," service, guaranteeing a 7 day service for £97, I would have reluctantly told my son that I was very sorry, but I did not have a passport, couldn't go, and wished him and his partner a happy trip. I would have been disappointed, but life is full of disappointments. However, having found the, "Fast track," service, I thought I was going to be able to travel with my son and make sure his kindness was appreciated!

So, I have to make a decision. I have already spent £97, lost two days' wages and spent some considerable time on this. I decide that the only hope of getting my passport is to travel to London on the Thursday evening and be at the passport office by 9am, where hopefully my passport will be waiting, since at 6pm it had not gone to the courier.

This is what I did. My son met me, I stayed overnight, and my son accompanied me to the passport office, arriving there before 9am, my son carrying my heavy bag. Ever hopeful! Get the passport, straight on to St Pancras! Yes, I was wearing my funny hat, with the flower on! Travelling on Eurostar for the first time was a best hat occasion!

Through the glass doors, past the security guards to the glassed reception, tell the person I want to find out where my passport is, get sent back to the security guards, directed to metal detector. I have to go to the second floor. My son suggests that I go ahead and he follows me, carrying my bag. I go to the next reception desk and get my, "cheese counter," ticket. As I turn back, I realise that there is some kind of altercation over at the metal detector. I hear my son say, "It's my mother's bag. She's just over there." I don't hear what the security person, who has a grip on my bag, is saying, but I then hear my son say, "Why are you talking to me like that?" He sounds very offended.

So, over I go, to try to find out what is happening. My son has a hand on my bag and the security person is holding the bag tightly. I ask what is the problem and I am told that there is a pair of scissors in the bag, showing up on the metal detector. Right! I am told that I must remove the scissors! I can't recall there being a pair of scissors in my bag, but Mr Security is not going to let go of my bag until I remove those scissors! Even my funny hat does not convince this man that I am really a harmless granny, not about to stab someone with the scissors I claim not to know about!

With Mr Security still determined not to let go of my bag, I rummage through my underwear, having decided that the only thing likely to contain scissors is my toilet bag and sure enough, there's a small pair of nail scissors at the bottom of it. I remove the scissors and place them in the polythene bag being held open by another security guard. I then have to wait while a receipt is written for my nail scissors.I rearrange my underwear....the items in the bag!

So, finally up to the second floor, where I wait for my number to come up, and I walk to the cubicle indicated by the bot voice. Once again, it's the cubicle that looks like a public pay phone. I describe the problem to the man behind the elevated desk and he goes off to see if he can find out where my passport is. He comes back twice to give me an update, each time telling me that he has not yet found any information. I go to let my son know what is happening. He is sitting out in the rows of seats, under the two large screens with the lists of numbers. I go back to my cubicle and wait. The man finally returns, after about 10 minutes, and tells me that the passport is on its way to my home address...around two and a half hours of travel from where I am in Victoria, and therefore ruling out my getting to St Pancras for a 10.30am check-in!

At this point what I feel is that I have let my son down. This is what upsets me. He has gone to some considerable trouble to organise a treat for me and I can't go because I have no passport. I feel like an idiot for all the assumptions I have made about interviews and guarantees! We have a cup of tea, my son and I, he goes on to St Pancras to meet up with his partner, and I make my way home, lugging my heavy bag and my handbag in which is my travel insurance document and my Euros. I still have those Euros. They are symbolic, not of my missed holiday, but of my shabby treatment by the Passport and Identity Service and I can't even bear to look at them.

When I arrive home, I write a letter of complaint. Two weeks later, I receive an acknowledgement and the information that my complaint will be dealt with, within two weeks.

Yesterday, I received a letter. Here are a few details:

"Please be assured that we set high standards of Customer Service including the care of applications and supporting documents and the response to enquiries and complaints. All our staff are trained and encouraged to meet these standards and I am sorry that you did not share this experience. However, given the volume of passport applications dealt with on a daily basis, unfortunately some human error does occur."

Now, would that person call my interviewer's rudeness, "human error."?

"Our system shows that you submitted your application on 05th June, 2008, and your passport was printed on 11th June, and then delivered on the 13th which was, indeed, the day after the passport was due."

The gentleman signing the letter then goes on to say that he is very pleased to say that he is sending me, under separate cover, a refund of £25! After all that! A refund of 25 quid! TWENTY-FIVE QUID! That's more of an insult than no refund at all! Three days of lost wages; one for my travel to the so-called, "interview,"; one for sitting here like an idiot waiting for the delivery that didn't come; one for going to London trying to take possession of my passport. Add to that thoroughly discourteous service, for which the staff are said to be trained (!!!) and I am offered TWENTY-FIVE QUID! It's not even better than a slap in the face with a wet fish!

I suppose there is always my 3"x5" flimsy, would-shame-a-pound-shop receipt! My passport was waiting when I arrived home, about two hours after my train would have left St Pancras. It remains unopened. And I am offered twenty-five quid! Well, the man who dictated that letter may be pleased, but I am certainly not! I am not so upset about the missed holiday as I am about the losses incidental to a contracted service not being delivered. It was that guarantee which led to the application and the journeys to London. So, losses are incidental to that guarantee.

That was my, "Fast track," to Victoria and home! Zut alors! And the passport office is pleased to offer me a refund of £25!!!!
My son had a brilliant time on his first trip to Paris. I had been hoping to show him my favourite places, but hey! My twenty-five quid should be on its way soon. What more could I want?
This from a government office! Part of the Home office? I do get better service from the cheese counter at Sainsbury's! And I always end up with something more than a flimsy receipt to show for my hard-earned cash that I hand over. At least I get some good quality cheese to enjoy!

And Mr Sainsbury's staff always say, "..please," and, "..thank you," and, "Is there anything else I can help you with?"
Maybe Mr Sainsbury could do some training for the London Passport and Identity Service, starting with, "The customers are paying your wages. They are entitled to some courtesy for the money they pay for the service. Repeat after me. 'Can I have your form, please?'

If only the passport service was run like the cheese counter at Sainsbury's! If Mr Sainsbury's staff behaved like those at the passport office, I am sure that they would be on their way out the door in double-quick time! But then, Mr Sainsbury knows that Customer Service is a very important part of any business. The passport service calls me a, "customer," but I sure didn't end up feeling like one!