of workers as many former colleagues, my friends and family members can testify. But eventually even I can’t stand the mess and the chaos and I have to do something about it.
How did my desk get into this state in the first place? Well I blame junk mail for much of it. I don’t mean the stuff addressed “to the occupier.” I’m also not talking about the stuff which says on the outside in big letters that I’m being made a once in a lifetime offer of a loan, credit card, life insurance etc all at a special introductory rate. All that goes straight into the bin. No, I’m talking about the stuff that has to be opened so that a decision can be made about what to do with it. So I open it, scan it and then decide what to do with it. Mostly I decide to put it on my desk and deal with it later. The stuff I found at the lowest reaches of the mountain had been there for nearly two years. That's how important it was.
Believe it or not I’m still getting statements for credit cards that I haven’t used for five years. I suppose it’s my own fault for not actually cancelling the cards, but can’t they take the hint? Can’t they write to me and ask me if I still want their card? Can’t they at least offer me on line statements?
I am treasurer for a group of old service colleagues who once held a reunion and have a bank account to hold what's left of the money we contributed to finance it. Every month I get a letter from Lloyds bank telling me what interest rates we'll be charged if we go over drawn. (A) we have never been overdrawn and (B) this account hasn't had any activity on it for 6 years, so that's 72 letters they've sent us that we don't need. Each one finds its way onto the mountain until I get round to shredding it.
We get a monthly statement of account from our utility supplier. Why? Let me first explain that we have a combined supplier for just about everything except water, so this statement is a fairly thick document. But it says much the same thing every month. Loads of telephone calls and texts that we get for free anyway, just a few that have to paid for and which don’t add up to more than a few quid. Ditto broadband. Gas and electricity consumption hardly varies except for those amounts that are seasonal, but even they’re predictable. We pay by monthly direct debit so I don’t have to write a cheque or make a bank transfer. So every month another half dozen sheets of paper get added to the pile and next month another tree will be sacrificed. Quarterly statements would be fine, thanks, or e-mail me the statements, but will my supplier listen? Answers on a postcard please (but don't send it to me because it will just get added to the pile).
Car, household, golf and travel insurance renewal notifications: why aren’t these sent by e-mail? They always ask for my e-mail address when I fill the forms in on line, but then don’t use it except to bombard me with spam. Then, once the renewal premium has been taken by direct debit the new policy documents arrive and get added to the pile. Why not e-mail them so I can store them nice and safely on my PC and only print them if it’s absolutely necessary? I promise to back my files up just in case the PC crashes. More trees being pulped every 12 months and it isn’t necessary.
I have three pensions (I know, but that’s what happens when you work for long enough) so I get three P60s each year, three notifications every time the amount of the pension changes by so much as a penny, newsletters from the three paying agencies and letters from various pressure groups who attach themselves to these sorts of things. No wonder pensions are so paltry when you think of the postage associated with all that. Has no one in the relevant pensions departments heard of e-mail?
DVLA make it nice and easy renew my car tax on line. Thank you. But then they go and spoil it all by sending me a reminder through the post when it’s time to renew. Not really joined up thinking, is it? Inland Revenue ditto. Why not e-mail me my new tax code? Why not e-mail me notification of my over/under payment of taxes (it arrives on the same day as the tax code notice but in a separate envelope)? It will save a lot of money for everyone and that’s a good thing.
And it will help me keep my desk clear and that to is also good thing.
I know that not everyone has a computer, though the numbers that haven’t are falling. I also know that some people don’t trust the internet enough to conduct their personal business over it and that’s fair enough. I wouldn’t want to force people into using the internet if they don’t want to. But for those of us that are happy to do so why not let us? Why not
save money, especially when its tax payers money that’s being spent.
If you think we’re talking about small sums then think again. Every PAYE taxpayer in the country gets an annual notification of their tax code. Each and every notification is charged postage. OK, it’s not the full 60p charge for First Class post because bulk mailings attract generous discounts, but if we said it was 30p per taxpayer that would work out somewhere in the region of £12 million a year in postage costs alone. Hardly small change.
I occasionally write to my MP to vent my spleen over some matter (Hi Chris, if you're reading). I don't write a letter and pay postage, I send him an e-mail. He's very good. He always replies and gets an answer for me from the relevant
government department. Its not always what i want to hear, but that's another matter, but guess how the reply arrives? Yup, more paper. Nice expensive House of Commons stationary and First Class postage paid. I don't think we can rely on our elected representatives to take the lead on reducing the government's dependence on paper and postage and if government won't do it neither will local government, the NHS or any other ageney for which we, the taxpayer, meet the cost.