Wednesday, 12 August 2009

P P S Anyone?

Can anyone tell me what exactly a PPS (Personal Public Service) number is good for? I have had cause to ponder this a lot lately. To me it seems like a quirky little Irishism, like the way you might be asked what your mother's maiden name is, or where your people might be from.

Public servants seem to either worship it or ignore it. The neat box designed to hold those hallowed digits seems to blink like a talisman for every civil servant in the land. But what exactly do they do with it?

I, of course, am far too literal and logical to ever fathom the depths of the mandarin mind. The twists and turns of those firing synapses when faced with official form filling completely bypass my sub civil servant brain.

Let me illustrate my point. I am a full-time carer, in receipt of carer's allowance; a social welfare payment which is means tested. Therefore, my means are below a certain threshold.
That's all quite straightforward. If you look up my PPS number on 'the system' it well tell you this.

I have recently decided to return to part time study. I figured I should up-skill in preparation for the day when my carer's duties reduce. I could then re-enter the work force, and maybe pay some taxes. I waded through an ocean of literature on entitlements, what one could and couldn't do in my situation. I made numerous phone calls to the nice people in the carer's allowance section of the the Dept. of Social and Family Affairs. I followed their instructions to the letter. I was officially sanctioned to apply for a Higher Education Grant. I receive the form, and am told, I have to be means tested again. But what about my PPS number? Surely it will give you all the information required? If the good people in the carer's allowance section are deemed competent enough to means test for social welfare entitlements, could we not save a whole other mountain of paper and just, you know, take their word for it?

Absolutely not! They are a completely different section of the public service, a whole new means test is essential.

So I fill out the form, queue for an hour in the dole office, taking up time that could be spent processing the many new claims, they look up my PPS number on 'the system'. It confirms my income threshold and that I am indeed a full-time carer, married with two dependent children. They then stamp the lovely pink form which has been printed by those nice people in the Higher Education Grant office and return it to me.

I then go and queue for my long form birth cert. It costs me 10 Euro. Does my PPS number not tell what age I am and that I was born in Galway some time towards the latter half of the last century? Obviously not, because the nice man in the register of births office spent quite a bit of time looking up my details on 'the system', of course this may not have been the same system.

Then the other kidney gets dragged into the fray, because I have to prove that he was mad enough to marry me 11 years ago, and that we have been living together at the same address for at least the last 3 years. He also needs to 'fess up again to how much he earns, which you know, we already did when I applied for the carers allowance. Then he needs to sign the nice pink form, to prove, well I don't know what exactly. That I have his permission to go back to education?

So then, after a week of queuing in offices and collecting various coloured forms, I bring them all to the nice man in the Higher Education Grants office. He then photocopies all my documents, stamps them, returns the originals, asks for some more evidence in paper form, and sends me on my way. Couldn't he have looked up all of this on my PPS, I am in 'the system' you know? No, they need paper proof!

I had just about recovered from this when, in a rather foolhardy gesture, I now realise, I rang the form E112 people. You know that office that eventually let us go to London to the feeding assessment clinic?It turns out she also needs a form, except this one is white, not pink.And guess what?She needs to means test us! I sheepishly suggested that, since I was in receipt of social welfare which was plain for all to see when they looked up my PPS number on 'the system', that maybe we could forgo the repeat means test. No she needed paper proof!

Am I missing something here? You see, from where I'm standing this seems like the most extraordinary waste of the little gem that could be the PPS number.

If I was a PPS number; I would be Pissed off, Put out and Sulking at this stage!



steph said...


Sorry to laugh, but...

You make a very valid point. It's incredible bureaucracy, isn't it?

You know, I have no income despite being unfit to hold down a full-time job. I don't fit any 'box' and for all the reasons you've outlined, I've never tried to claim anything off the state (other than children's allowance). My husband benefits from having my tax free allowance added to his but that's all. I'd rather do without that subject myself to 'the system'.

Good luck with the part-time study. No better woman.

AnnB said...

Sorry for the delay Steph but we've had complete computer meltdown here! My screen now looks like the lining of a Paul Smith suit! So I'm afraid transmission will be intermittent for a while!

I have found life on social welfare one of the hardest adjustments I've had to make since Rory's arrival. I have always worked and paid my own way. It is quite a fundamental shift to find yourself 'dependant"
I imagine many more people are now having to make that shift in the current economic climate - it's not easy.

I am eternally grateful to the system, without it, I dread to think what would have happened to us. I find it frustrating though to be treated like a sponger by people who have the most wasteful work practices.

Lily said...

Love the line, 'Pissed off, Put out and Sulking'.

You make a very valid point!

AnnB said...

Thanks Lilly, it's 'eye-wateringly' frustrating and so inefficient, yet rather than tackle the obvious, the government hits easy targets like Special Needs Assistants. Will we ever learn?