This week’s bureaucratic classic:
Yesterday, I was in First Choice Homes in Oldham with Paul, 67, who is homeless. He lives in a caravan at the moment (see pictures below). Joy.
Paul had to make a change to his homelessness and housing register application/record (they’re both on the same form, we were told). He needed to add medical information, because he had a new letter about his health from his doctor. He had to do this online as you must do most things these days. We were ushered over to First Choice’s computer bank as soon as we mentioned the change of circumstances at reception.
Not long into the computer session, we hit a screen which demanded Paul’s address (again). There was, of course, a big and very immediate problem with this. Paul doesn’t have an address BECAUSE HE IS HOMELESS (he wasn’t able to fill in the House Type field either, given that there was no Caravan option in the menu). An address field on a homelessness form would surely be an optional extra in his case – and for the many people I meet who sleep rough, or sofa-surf all over the place, or whatever. But no. The form would not submit unless the address fields were filled. This is the point where you have to cast about for any old shit that might work in the form fields – maybe a friend or relative’s address, or an older address if you have one. That hardly reflects your situation, though. It doesn’t give you much confidence in the process, either, given that the process doesn’t give accurate insight into your situation.
SIGH. Here’s a shot of the screen not working. It’s fuzzy, but you get the idea. The red fields and exclamation marks are as usual:
I can’t tell you how often my head is done in by public service applications and screens these days. There really does not seem to be a single benefit or housing application process which doesn’t involve a major hurdle or nine. Phone calls to the DWP and councils take ages/go nowhere. Online forms don’t work, or they demand information people can’t easily give. Some processes look and feel as though they were built in technology’s dark ages.
You can set aside a whole morning or afternoon to make calls, or fill in forms these days and get absolutely nowhere (I’ve set aside two afternoons this week for such calls and forms, and emerged no further ahead on both occasions). You inevitably conclude that all aspects of the system are designed to put people off applying. Certainly, very little seems to be designed with the real-life needs of real service users in mind. Can’t wait to see how much further things deteriorate as more and more public money is diverted into endless Brexit departments and projects. Out in the real world, this is how life goes.
To their credit, First Choice staff agreed that the system was at fault and that this happened to others. A woman came up to help and told us to use the First Choice address to make the form work. A woman on the front desk agreed that the form should have a No Fixed Abode option and that staff had brought up the problem themselves:
“It doesn’t give that [No fixed Abode] facility for anyone….we brought this up ourselves… people who are homeless have got no fixed abode…there isn’t a facility to do that … they’ve got to have either a contact address …well… this what we said … but it’s got to be an address, because we used to put here [the address for First Choice homes] but we got stopped from doing that.”
I recorded all of this. One of the reasons I record these conversations is that some of them seem such cliched takes on Computer Says No that when I get home, I wonder if I really heard right. Demanding an address from homeless people seemed very much in that category.
Tell you what, though – if you’re after the reasons why some members of the population feel angry, marginalised and dismissed, these unbelievably frustrating systems feature among them.