I complained to Defra about their handling of my FoI/EIR request on 1 September.  Yesterday they replied saying how they were going to handle it – and that was fine. No complaints there. None at all.

The letter even said ‘If you have any queries about this letter please contact me.’ which I thought was good of them.

I had one small query and I started writing an email and then thought ‘No. This is easier to explain on the ‘phone and that’s a more personal and friendly way to do it.’ and since there were two telephone numbers listed at the top of the letter I ‘phoned one of them (03459 33 55 77) and got the usual menu of ‘If this…dial this’ although Defra seem particularly keen on talking to people about ash dieback. As one navigates through several menus one gets an insight into the workings of Defra but eventually gets through to someone on a switchboard (somewhere other than Smith Square I’m sure).

The person started by asking me my name and ‘phone number. And then tried to put me through to the person whose name was on the foot of the letter but I ended up in another menu of completely irrelevant options. There seemed no escape so I hung up and tried the other number on the Defra headed notepaper (08459 33 55 77) and found that it isn’t a real number anymore and tells me that I should dial 03459 33 55 77. How helpful that Defra is sending out duff numbers to the public!

So I redialled the 03459 option and went through the options again (no, not ash dieback) and talked to another real person who asked for my name and phone number.  This person found it very difficult to understand that I wasn’t chasing a reply to anything (that is clearly what the people at the end of the phone spend their time dealing with), I was very satisfied with the reply I had received yesterday but since the sender had suggested that if I wished I could contact him, and had given this ‘phone number (and one that doesn’t work any more) then I’d like to speak to him.

Apparently, I eventually discovered, I can’t talk to him because he is in the FoI/EIR branch of Defra and he is a mere ‘drafter’ of letters who can’t speak on the ‘phone. But the lady on a switchboard somewhere miles from Smith Square would ‘phone him and feedback any information on why he hadn’t replied to me – except, I pointed out, he had replied to me. It’s because he had replied to me that I was ‘phoning the number(s) that he had given me on his letter of yesterday!

We decided that I would send him an email. So I did.



6 Replies to “Kafkaesque”

  1. A for ‘efficiency’ and ‘reform’ – your experience matches mine with EDF ( which is sort of Private Sector but isn’t as it is owned by the French Government). I rang them to tell them my meter wasn’t working ie I appeared to be using their electricity but the meter didn’t change. So I was doing them a favour – stupid or what ? they logged it as a ‘complaint’ and suggested I ring a number which I didn’t because I didn’t have time to spend an hour waiting for someone to reply. Eventually the meter started up again after our electrician tapped it (I’d tried and nothing happened) so I sent in a meter reading which they didn’t accept because it was outside the confidence limits of our near zero consumption. So I sent a cheque for what I thought we owed and a meter reading and the system re-engaged and sent me a bill for the small balance I’d underestimated. So that is the bright new world of business efficiency and Defra and EDF clearly have the same unbelievably expensive consultants, which is where all our taxes are going. The basic lesson is don’t bother ringing a business phone number unless the person on the other end expects to take money off you, in which case they’ll answer at once – unless they are your bank in which case….

  2. Presumably if you had chosen the ‘ash dieback’ option it would have taken you through to a pre-recorded message saying “do nothing”, followed by a recording of the voice of the late Oliver Rackham saying “for once I agree.”

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