Not Saussure

December 29, 2006

ID cards yet again

Filed under: ID cards, UK — notsaussure @ 6:44 pm

Something folks may have missed, what with it appearing on Christmas Eve. I’m not actually sure how much of it is news — the fact of the penalty charges was certainly known several months ago, but their severity may not previously been published.

Anyway, The Sunday Telegraph reported, of written replies published in the previous few weeks,

A draconian regime of fines, which would hit families at times of marriage and death, is being drawn up by ministers to enforce the Identity Card scheme.

Millions of people, from struggling students to newly-wed women and bereaved relatives, will face a system of penalties, netting more than £40 million for the Treasury.

People would be fined up to £1,000 for failing to return a dead relative’s ID card, while women who marry will have to pay at least £30 for a new card if they want to use their married name, risking a £1,000 fine if they do not comply.

Pace David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, who said

It is shocking that the Government is considering charges and fines on people at some of the most sensitive times in life,

I don’t see this as too great a problem; speaking as someone who’s twice had to register a death — which is a legal obligation — I don’t think I’d have found it any more onerous or distressing to have had to take my father’s or my wife’s ID card along with me to the Registrar’s office for cancellation. Indeed, if this had enabled the Registrar to notify the (what seems like dozens of) other government departments who want to know when someone’s died, it might well have been advantageous. If you’re going to make it a requirement to hand the things in, then the requirement has to be enforceable and, so long as it’s applied sensitively, I can’t see a huge problem.

However, the other charges look a tad worrying.

Joan Ryan, the Home Office minister, said that charges would apply “if a person wished to add a married surname to his or her register entry”. Based on an estimate of 311,000 marriages a year, that would net up to £9 million a year for the Exchequer.

People would be charged at least £30 for lost or stolen cards. Based on the 930,000 driving licences lost or stolen each year, this would earn the Treasury more than £28 million a year, say the Tories.

Quite why it’s necessary to levy a tax on married women using their husband’s surname, I do not know; as I recall, when we got married my wife just informed the relevant people — bank, Inland Revenue and so forth — that she now had a new surname; I think she had to produce a copy of the marriage certificate a couple of times, but that was it. Yet another example, it seems to me, of introducing an expensive solution to a non-existent problem; since her existing bank, Lloyds, were perfectly happy to take her word for it that she’d got married and cheques in her new name should be paid into her account until the Fraud Squad said otherwise, I don’t see why ID cards have to come into it.

In another cause for concern, students are apparently going to have to record all their addresses — term-time as well as home address — or face a £1,000 fine. Given the forgetfulness of many students and the way they tend to move around, at least in London, I foresee problems ahead.

Indeed, as I recall, one of the many problems that faced the Poll Tax was that no one had really appreciated how often people — young people, certainly — tend to move house. A friend of mine, then in her late 20s, was perfectly prepared to register for the Poll Tax, at least initially. Then she split up with her boyfriend and moved back in with her parents, in another borough, for a month or so. Then she found a flat-share (another borough) which didn’t go too well, so she moved to another flat-share (and borough) three months after that. Then she changed jobs and moved into my spare room (another borough) to be closer to work while she looked for more permanent accommodation (yet another borough).

At some point in all this bouncing around between Bromley, Westminster, Camden and Islington she got tired of trying to keep up with the paperwork and just gave up being registered. OK, that was an unusual year for her, but it’s hardly an unusual series of peregrinations on a few occasions in most people’s lives. Doubtless we’ll be assured that the system will be able to cope, but do we believe it? That’s the question.

Most sinister of all is the revelation that

all fees and fines will be paid directly into the Treasury’s central funds for general spending and not go towards running the scheme

I really think this is going to turn into a plastic poll tax if they’re crazy enough to go ahead with it.

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  1. Add into the equation the fact that s35 of the Act allows fees for changes of details on the NIR to be set by regulations, and the potential effect on young people will be disastrous.

    They are the least likely to have a settled address, and the most likely to be on very low wages or on benefits of £45.50 pw (£12 less than the benefit received by an over-25). For many, simply affording the stamp and stationery to register a change of address is too much.

    And then, if a young person is living a momadic existence between, say, Centrepoint and friend’s floors, how will they actually get a new card? Each time they register a new address, they could already be moving on, so an updated card is more likely to get lost – incurring yet another fee, for a replacement card, that is more than their weekly income.

    The situation is ludicrous. It’s hard to see how a homeless young person won’t end up in thousands of pounds-worth of debt in terms of fines and fees.

    Comment by archrights — December 30, 2006 @ 11:03 am

  2. To be fair, I don’t think the scheme involves sending your card off for replacement each time you change address; that’s only when some details on the card itself need changing (e.g. surname on marriage). I think you just have to notify the authorities of the addresses you regularly use and of any change in them. This, I suppose, could be done in person at post offices and libraries if they’re given the appropriate equipment. However, as you say, the fees and fines are going to hit hardest those who’re most likely to incur them; people — especially young people — who lead, for whatever reason, a very unsettled life and who tend not to be very good at keeping up with bureaucratic requirements.

    One of my many worries about the ID card scheme is that it’ll expose people to the full horrors and complexities of bureaucratic requirements that, at the moment, get fudged.   For example, if someone’s staying on a friend’s floor, then this potentially has implications for both his and his friend’s JSA, Income Support, Housing and Council Tax Benefit and what have you;   as I recall, if you’re claiming JSA you’re supposed to notify the Benefits Agency if you spend more than a couple of nights out of the area visiting family or friends.   No one bothers to, I’m sure, and if they did  it would create a whole load of extra work, recalculating claims and then recalculating them again when they returned to their normal address, to no good purpose.    

     With ID cards, however, that’s all going to be flagged up, and I bet that no one has bothered to work out the resource implications — both for staff and their computer systems — involved in reacting to the countless minor adjustments to benefits claims that they’ll need, in theory, to make.     I foresee huge problems ahead with this, and needless worry and disruption for all concerned as their claims get constantly delayed as they’re recalculated and recalculated again, all for adjustments of a pound or so.

    Comment by notsaussure — December 30, 2006 @ 2:06 pm

  3. Ah! I’m struggling to keep up at the back, and you’re absolutely right. In these days of blank-cheque legislation, I guess it would be too much to expect the card content to be specified on the face of the Act, but I see that s6 does at least provide for regs to be subject to affirmative resolution.

    Certainly the central premise still holds, though: the most vulnerable and chaotic will be under the greatest pressure, and as you point out, there may be considerable disincentive to offering someone a bed for a few nights. I wonder what the odds are that the DWP system will simply implode?

    Comment by archrights — December 30, 2006 @ 6:12 pm

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