|I'm not quite sure what this man is doing, but the process of providing acceptable |
proof of identity often feels very like this. I must get one of those hats.
Recently my mother has moved into a residential care home, and I’ve been busy selling her house and sorting out her various financial affairs – there are, as a trivial example, a considerable number of organisations who have to be notified of her change of address.
I have had Power of Attorney (PoA) in place for some 8 years or so now – for which I am very grateful – when the time comes for you to use it, it can come in a hurry.
A recurrent issue in the last few weeks has been the need to establish identity – usually mine (as agent or attorney), but – for purposes of money laundering and the actual sale of the house – proof of my mother’s identity has also been required.
Now this security thing is a weird industry – I know all about why this has to be done, why organisations have to be certain that they are dealing with the people they think they are dealing with, but it does seem that the traditional proofs which are acceptable are increasingly out of step with current reality. I’m only part-way through the task, but I’ve seen the same request for the same information many times. Someone will want to see a couple of recent (original) utility bills or bank statements with the individual’s name and address thereupon, and some form of photo ID which identifies the bearer – passport and/or driving licence are the norm. Often someone will also wish to see the original documentation for the PoA – a certified copy is often not accepted – which requires delay, hassle and return registered mail.
Well I can manage most of that, except that just about all my personal business is carried out online these days, so recent paper statements and invoices of appropriate solemnity are not so easy to find. I have been looking after a lot of my mum’s business online in recent years too, but her situation is worse in that she does not have a passport – hasn’t had one since 1985 or so – and she hasn’t had a driving licence for many years. Because she has been housebound she doesn’t have photo ID in the form of a disabled person's parking permit or even an in-force bus pass. This is not a trivial problem.
Example 1: I have attempted to set up an online account for her with the Tax Office (HMRC), since she will now receive her savings income gross and will have to settle the tax liability each year. I got nowhere – if she has neither passport nor current driving licence then the system cannot verify her against other government records, so she doesn’t exist. Thus paper tax returns it will have to be. Hmmm.
Example 2: Two days ago I phoned her pension supplier – the young man was quite firm that he could not accept notification of change of address over the telephone unless we went through the entire rigmarole of sending my PoA forms so that I could be formally registered as the attorney, so that I could notify them of a simple address update – since all the bank account and payment information is to remain the same, this seems a lot like the tail wagging the dog. We’ll gloss over how delighted the young man was to be unable to help me. While I was waiting to be put through to him, however, the voice server system had suggested that I might like to set up an online account with the pension fund. Bingo. Thank you very much – that’s the answer. I set up an online account for my mother (I have all the paperwork here) and simply changed her address online. No problem – I/she/we even got an email thanking me for my trouble.
Excellent. I am adopting the same procedure with her major utility suppliers – create an online account, and use it to notify a change of address and the cessation of the supply. These organisations are delighted that you are doing the work yourself – no-one seems at all concerned that I might, in fact, be an unauthorised alien making free with some poor old lady’s identity. I’m not going to make ripples here – if it works, let’s do it. My handling of her bank accounts is similar – all done online, though if I wished to do it over the counter or on the phone we’d all be frozen in amber until the PoA forms came back from The Legal People, who live far, far away.
My point is only that proving identity is becoming a central theme in our lives, that most people’s lives have moved away from a set-up which readily provides the traditional paper proofs, yet the identity checking built into online customer self-management is (usefully, in this case) negligible.
How awfully silly.