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8:16am on Wednesday, 26th April, 2006:



Suppose you went to Tesco's and you found they were selling 100 bananas for the price of 1. You might be suspicious and ask the staff about it, but if they said that yes, the price was correct and you really can buy 100 bananas for the price of 1, well, it's not unreasonable to suppose that you might just go right ahead and buy 100 for the price of 1. If Tesco's phoned you up 3 months later and said it was all a hideous mistake and would you please return the excess 99 bananas, you could legitimately tell them to get stuffed. You suspected a problem, you queried it, you were assured it wasn't a problem, so you acted on the information you were given. What more could you have done?

Suppose you get family tax credits from the government. You suspect they may be giving you more than you're entitled to, so you send them updated information and ask them to check, and the reply comes back that no, you're not being overpaid. You'd think that this would be the end of the matter, wouldn' you? Except that when it turns out that there was indeed a miscalculation after all, you could find yourself having to repay a year's worth of overpayments that you've already spent. Apparently, you "should have realised" the figures were wrong.

Yes, well in the bananas example you "should have realised" the bananas were underpriced. The thing is, you did realise, so you checked. What you really "should have realised" is that government departments can't be trusted to get it right even when they do the second check. So maybe, when I phoned the Inland Revenue last year to find out if I really was entitled to the £3,800.58 they said I was entitled to, and they said that no, it was a mistake, well maybe that was the mistake and I really am entitled to it?

Normally when the government to puts advertisements on the TV, it's to tell us about some wonderful new benefit to which we may be entitled and about which we should all feel good and happy. Now, we have the bizarre situation where they're putting on TV advertisements telling us all to fill in our family tax credits forms as soon as possible so that we're not overpaid.

Oh what a wacky world we live in.

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).