The Digital Idiot

I have narrowly avoided falling into an idiot trap. Not the one where a Dutch-based Nigerian émigré offers to launder a hundred million dollars through my Halifax savings account but a much cleverer one from a village at the northern end of the Yorkshire moors.

I knew about the Data Protection Act ‘Scam’ and I’ll call it that, although legally it has fallen through a gap in the law. The letter I received looked quite convincing. It warned me that I might not have properly complied with the Data Protection Act of 1998 and that I should immediately complete the enclosed forms DP1 DP2 and Appendix A to determine my position as a ‘Data Controller’.

I’m sure you know what the morning after a Bank Holiday is like? Lots of email and post to go through and so I swiftly ran my eyes over the letter and started completing the form. I even wrote the return envelope and signed the declaration. And then I stopped, because it was asking me for £95.00 and I’m notoriously tight-fisted.

Since when, unless you wish to have a ‘briefing’ at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister – ODPM cost £161 – do you have to pay to find out whether you have fallen foul of the Data Protection Registrar?

A closer look at the letterhead reveals that this is from the ‘Data Processing Protection Corporation, (DPPC) which is ‘Registerd’ in England and Wales and is trying very hard to relive the gullible and the work pressured of £95.00. As government increasingly finds new and more creative ways of squeezing taxes out business, companies, I use the term loosely, like DPPC, find equally creative ways of making a living from people like me who were almost too busy to check whether a letter which appeared to be from the Data Protection Registrar, actually was. I ask you, would anyone really be surprised if government decided to stick a £95 charge on Data Protection registration and it’s this complacency which DPPC counts on, our rather loose trust relationship with the Treasury.

In the same pile of mail as the letter from DPPC was a bright red final demand from HM Customs & Excise for money that I don’t owe them. I have written about this before but in the age of joined-up government, sending in your VAT return on time causes them all kind of problems, particularly if you also happen to pay electronically.

Your’e unusual”, I was told by the friendly VAT collections supervisor. “The system is quite silly, and I’ll be taking it up at our next meeting”. “It makes us look silly too, as all this money is being spent on modernisation and at the basic level, it’s not working as it should be, with my people having to write figures into the printed demand by hand”.

The moral of the story is that life in the speed camera society is littered with digital idiot traps and that frequently, well-intentioned technology in the hands of HM Treasury, can create more problems than it solves. As a final piece of advice, never make your VAT payment early or exactly on time or not at least until the system can handle the management of a paper return linked to an electronic payment.


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