10 August 2022


WFH. Another modern abbreviation creeping into our language. It stands for 'Working From Home', a concept born of necessity during the many Covid lockdowns we have had over the last few years. It has changed people's (and employer's) views about whether it is necessary to work in the workplace any more.  People have found they can move out of the cities and live in the countryside or even abroad and still carry out their work  from the comfort of their home.  Spare bedrooms have been converted into offices or grand outbuildings built at the end of the garden to house an office. One suspects that they work in their pyjamas, start their day at 11am instead of 9am, finish at 3pm instead of 5pm and have two hours for lunch or have half an eye on daytime TV. 

Of course there are some professions where it is not possible. Like Kay's for example - she is a hospital doctor - there is no way she can work from home.  She has been working in the hospital every week since the first mention of Covid back in early 2020.  Shopkeepers can't work from home. Nor can firemen, aeroplane pilots, plumbers, or public transport workers. There are many more who cannot stay at home to carry out their work.

However, Working From Home seems to suit a lot of office workers who just need a phone and a computer to connect to their work base and to the wider public. Among this motley crew are the civil servants of this realm. Now, I was a civil servant in my working career, so I know how things work and run in the Westminster corridors. In my day, I was a floor or two beneath the Ministers and would often have to pop up to brief them before their visits round the UK or abroad, if they needed  further questions answered. I suppose nowadays, they can get round that with an email and with zoom meetings instead, but even so, the response should be immediate. Which brings me on to my big grouse.... everything these days seems to take an age for what was once a simple procedure. It has been much widely publicised that various businesses and government departments (especially the Passport Office and DVLA) seem to take an age to process paperwork with the excuse that staff are working from home. We are supposed to forgive them, be patient and understand this delay. But why? Lockdowns are long gone, things are back to normal, we are being told masks are not really mandatory any more in shops or on public transport and we should go back to normal and live alongside Covid. So, if staff working from home are causing delays to the running of the system, then why have them working at home? We should not accept that an easy peasy lifestyle for the office worker will inconvenience the public or slow down an otherwise slick process.

My grouse is personal. I have been on the receiving end of this WFH malarkey.  Living alone and in a house with five flights of stairs, I am conscious that one false move could have me bouncing down stairs and ending in an unconscious gibbering heap for days on end. To that aim, back in the New Year, I decided it would be prudent to apply for Power of Attorney, so that, should anything ghastly happen to me, my daughter could make decisions about my health and finances.  I sent off for the two forms for Health and Finance, filled them out, got signatures witnessed, paid £164 to cover the two forms, and posted them on 31 January to the Office of the Public Guardian(OPG), the civil service body that deals with this. Bear that date in mind, because, dear reader, it will become very crucial to my story. So how long, do you think it takes to process this sort of application. A week? A month? Two months? Take a wild guess.

So, here I am on 10 August and still waiting. That's six and a half months!

The first indication that the application had even been received was around late February when the £164 came out of my bank account, so from that I assumed that they must have received everything, not that they bothered to tell me. Another couple of months went by and in April I tried to ring OPG to find out what was happening to my case.  The answerphone said I was 69 in the queue and every so often interjected to say that staff were working home from home and begged my patience to hold on. After 20 minutes I had made it to 67 in the queue and guessed I'd be on the phone all day at that rate, so hung up and emailed them. I received a holding email to say, again, that I should be patient  as staff were working from home yada yada and their reply would take 25 working days. Some 25 working days or even later, their email said they were working on it.

In mid May, both Kay (the person who would act for me in the event of my demise) and I received letters to say that the application would be approved, if nobody objected within 3 weeks. However, they had spelled Kay's surname incorrectly, despite it being correct on the application form and the same surname as mine. We felt we needed to draw their attention to that, as almost certainly some jobsworth in the future would say the document was not legally binding. Kay rang them up to discover she was 71 in the queue. Working in a hospital these days means she doesn't even have time for a toilet break, let alone to hang on the phone indefinitely, so she emailed OPG to point out the error. She received a reply that she would hear back from them in - you've guessed it - 25 working days. 

Finally, the OPG-registered authorisation of my application duly arrived at the beginning of June - with the incorrect spelling of Kay's surname. At that point I just blew a gasket. I emailed their complaints department and received a holding reply that they would answer within 10 working days. I am STILL WAITING for this some 40 days later. 

Ten days ago, I had had enough, I wrote a letter to the Chief Executive firing all the bullets I could muster. I'm still waiting for his/her response. Maybe he/she is working from home too.


Gattina said...

I stumbled across your post and somehow it comforted me. My husband died at the end of May and I'm being overwhelmed with papers for inheritance tax. My case is quite simple, I have neither a castle nor a piece of land, nothing but what is on the bank. But I also had to wait in line on the phone and spent days missing my turn because it was lunch time or something. Then I had enough. Feeling bad with grief, and also do the paperwork, too much is too much and I handed over all the paperwork to a notary who is a friend of mine. Apparently, administrations are international! It's a shame. We are just numbers in a telphon line !

Linda d said...

Grrrrrrr! So very frustrating.

Will said...

Your experience reminds me of the stories in the media some time ago of the serious delays in individuals receiving their state pensions, and the "excuse" of working from home was, of course, trotted out. What really got me angry about this was the fact that the Pensions Agency had been managing fine prior to lockdowns and WFH, so why should things suddenly change? No more people than before were reaching pension age, the same number of staff were (theoretically) working on the cases, so one was left with the conclusion that these PA staff were very definitely not "working" from home. So we, the taxpayers, were subsidising a large number of PA staff to work part-time for their full-time pay, and our wonderful government was just turning a blind eye to this abuse.

Flowerpot said...

Oh Addy how infuriating. I do so feel for you. As someone who has worked from home for the last 22 years, I don't see that this is any excuse for inefficiency - ask any of my editors! I do hope you hear back from the Chief Exec very soon.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Please don't put all WFH workers in the same bag! My daughter has been working from home since the very first lockdown. Monitoring software ensures that she starts at 8.30am and finishes at 5.30pm with a half hour break for lunch. There is very much a sense that she is "on it" all the time. Probably working harder than when she used to be in the office every day.

ADDY said...

I don't dispute there are some good home workers out there but to wait over six months for a simple application to be approved is ridiculous