31 August 2016

This company keeps accusing me of marrying my sister


‘Nobody has said that you’re married to your sister,’ said the man from Concentrix on the phone.

He had that sanctimonious tone that normally only comes with being a member of a church. Perhaps that’s what he was. Concentrix are the New Clergy for these secular days when fewer people than ever sit in a confessional. Their hotlines are one of the few places where we’re expected to explain the sad realities of our little lives: incomes and illnesses, postcodes and paternity. In those terms, my sister and I are waiting for the Church to grant us a divorce. It all feels so very medieval.

If you’ve lucky enough to have avoided the pleasure, I should introduce you to Concentrix: an American company to whom the British government has contracted the business of spotting fraud in the Working Tax Credit system. They are also the company who, for the second time in eighteen months, have decided that not only am I fraudulent, I’m also in an incestuous relationship with my sister. Of course, they’ve never say it in so many words. They just check the electoral roll for houses with people with the same surname and leap to the conclusion that they have to be married. Then it’s a simple matter of closing your Working Tax Credit claim in the HMRC’s computer system because you live with a ‘partner’.

Naturally, the appeal process is hardly as simple. ‘Sorry, our system has just gone down,’ said a perky woman at Concentrix. She sounded delighted, as though this was a welcome break from explaining to people why sisters have become wives and brothers husbands. ‘I couldn’t possibly comment without seeing your details. It should be back up later.’

By the time system rebooted mid afternoon, I’d received quite a few tweets from the British public about Concentrix. It seems like I’m not the only ‘villain’ identified by Concentrix’s crack team of snoopers. Except, of course, my ‘crime’ is not that low-level trickery by which a company forces you to listen to a whole minute of drivel whilst racking up the cost on their non-freephone number. And it’s also not the kind of racket whereby they keep you on hold (let’s say for about fifteen minutes), most of the time listening to a voice chanting a mantra about ‘All of our advisors are currently busy helping other claimants.’ It doesn’t take too long before something on repeat starts to make you question whether you have indeed confused your sister with your lover. It’s all clever psychology, of course. This is a system designed to make you fail and to increase Concentrix’s profits.

Concentrix, part of the Synnex Corporation, are based in Belfast and are charged by the government to prove fraud. It is increasingly obvious that they aim to prove nothing of the kind. Concentrix abuse the powers of the State to victimise the innocent, all in the name of profits for their American shareholders. They would rather cast their net wide, judge and convict innocent people whose lives they throw into chaos, and then shift the burden of proof onto those they accuse of making fraudulent claims. It really is a case of being presumed guilty before you can even prove your innocence.

I never thought I would ever have to prove that I’m brother to my sister or that it would prove so difficult or quite so expensive in phone calls or sending birth certificates. That’s not to speak of the stress, lost income for the time spent dealing with them, as well as the upset caused. Is it not libellous to suggest that a person has been withholding important facts in order to fraudulently claim something for which they’re not entitled? Then there’s the implied incest. What next? Do I have to prove that my mother is my mother and she prove that I’m her son? Well, of course, she did. They asked for a letter from my 80 year old mother to confirm that it was indeed from her womb that two free subjects of Britain were born.

This isn’t just a minor grumble about government inefficiency. It is not even an argument about the pros and cons of the Working Tax Credit system. In the name of smaller government, a foreign company is now operating in Britain where it can abuse the authority of the state. With brutal callousness, they wilfully inflict pain on people who, through no fault of their own, have details which somehow don’t match up with whatever ‘norm’ Concentrix deem to be normal. This, of course, comes down to money. Concentrix are paid for all each claim they successfully close but they’ve monetised our suffering; they are incentivised to abuse the system, closing every case their computer flags and then make it so utterly painful to get the decision overturned that many people will fail at the first hurdle.

Leaving aside the bureaucracy, the sly tricks, and the incompetence, what does this say about Britain? What does it say about the status of the family in Britain? I just happen to have a sister who has a very rare medical condition that makes her ill on a daily basis. I also believe in the institution of brotherhood. I believe in doing everything I can to help her because that’s what good brothers do. It’s also what good families do. It is, I expect, what you would do in the same circumstances and, perhaps, it’s what you currently do. We do it because this is how we define ourselves and our society. It is the basis on which politicians fight and win elections. Or did we agree that the State should hands its powers to private businesses who can bully, cajole, slander and abuse us? I think we should know. We should be told when exactly it was when we abandoned the presumption of innocence in the country formerly known as Britain but now, apparently, part of the Synnex Corporation.

David Waywell writes and cartoons at The Spine.