I hate money. Whoever said that money can’t buy you happiness was either a liar or very literally-minded.
You see, without going into too much boring detail, the nature of my employment is such that there is, occasionally, the possibility of my being without work. Now, to understand the significance of this, I’d like to take you on a journey across time and space, to a period long ago, back when it was… er, five years ago.
At that time, I also found myself unemployed, and went – for a very brief period – on the dole. Frankly, for the amount I got, it hardly seemed worth the effort. Anyway, a few months after I’d come off, I got a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions. It was a sinister thing in which they told me, quite sternly, that I was under suspicion of having committed fraud.
Well, this was a serious allegation, but I was quite sure there had been some misunderstanding. I went along to a little interview at which a middle-aged and slightly nervous-looking woman tried to act like a badass interrogator. She presented me with a letter in a manner that was possibly intended to be confrontational, but came off as if she thought it was about to explode. In this letter, National Savings and Investments confirmed that I had an account with them and, without getting too specific, there was quite a bit of money in it. This is a thing the DWP tend to frown upon when you’re applying for the dole.
Frankly, the whole thing took me by surprise. I’d never heard of this account, I’d never had any correspondence regarding it, even my parents weren’t familiar with it. I was asked why I hadn’t declared it, and I explained that I honestly didn’t know it was there. I also pointed out that there had been no activity on the account since 1994, and that it was unlikely, having been both unemployed and a student, that I would have gone without dipping into it. Unless I’d been planning to defraud the DWP since primary school, which is unlikely but possible.
Eventually I was free to go, it being determined that I had not been a child mastermind. My first move, as you might imagine, was to find out all I could about the account. Its origins were determined – it had been set up shortly after my birth and forgotten about. Next step was to get at that money.
Now, let me make this clear – National Savings and Investments hate you. I rang them up and explained the situation. They told me that I needed “a book” to get the money out. I asked how I could get this… “book.” They replied that I just had to tell them the last two transactions. I patiently reminded them that I hadn’t even known this account existed, and the chap happily explained that he could do nothing for me. So I tried writing, and received no reply. Eventually I gave up on the whole thing.
A few months ago – roughly five, in fact – it occurred to me that it might be sensible to try to get that money again. I was reminded of this by a call from my bank, reminding me of the existence of my credit card and overdraft, pointing out that these were costing me money every month and offering me a loan (which presumably would also cost me money every month). This NS&I account could take care of both of those, and isn’t that what those financial-advisor-type people are always telling us we should do with pecuniary windfalls?
So I went on the NS&I website to find out how I could get a new book. This had no information whatsoever. So I went to the Post Office (who run NS&I) and asked. I was told I had to write to the main office. Actually write. Compose a letter and send it. Now, I know the Post Office aren’t fans of the Internet, but for Christ’s sake.
So I did that. I included all the information I had. I didn’t know if it would be enough, because I had no idea what they required. The Post Office bods I spoke to seemed a little uncertain. I waited, and waited, and waited. After about three months, I was ready to write an angry letter, but then – at long last – I got a response.
It was a form. A form saying, “Yeah, you know that account, the one you sent us details about? Are these the details of that account?” Yes, I said, and posted it back. Then I got another form basically saying, “Are you sure these are the details of that account?”
This form also demanded a witness signature. No proof of identity, date of birth or address, they didn’t even specify who the witness should be. In other words, if an unscrupulous individual (other than me) got hold of the letter, they could just change the address details, fake a witness signature and get my book.
Eventually, a week and a half ago, the book finally arrived. I let out a whoop, as I was at that time living on beans on toast and the surprisingly nutritious gunk I’d scraped from under the fridge. I held off on buying a solid gold top hat, and went down to the Post Office. The photo of Postman Pat giving the finger should have clued me in that it wouldn’t be as simple as I thought, and so it was not. The woman at the counter explained that I would have to fill out a form, post it off and I would get the money in roughly two weeks. And I did ask – there is again no online facility for doing this, nor could I just give the form to them. Interesting fact – trying to get through a pane of reinforced glass really hurts.
After I’d recovered, I filled out the form. It asked for account details but again, no actual proof of ID beyond the book (which I’d have to physically send). Last week I got… a form identical to the second one, i.e. asking for my address, date of birth and an easily-faked witness signature. So I sent it off. Who knows what the next step will be? I tried reading some Kafka, but it offered little by way of practical tips. I’m starting to think maybe the Great Train Robbers weren’t bad men, just regular people trying to get hold of their savings who got pushed too far.
So here I am. I’ve been unemployed for four weeks, but I’m back in work on Monday. Going on the dole wasn’t an option, because of this account. But this account was of no physical use, because I couldn’t get to it. Meanwhile, I’ve been leading an existence of student-level poverty, with enough money to solve all my problems seemingly just out of reach. I don’t quite understand how my life turned into a 1980s sitcom, but there you go.
Anyway, to return to my starting point – money can’t buy you happiness, but I’d feel a lot happier knowing I can pay the rent next week.