Advice to an upset widower: get a grip, Mike, and raise a storm about those bloody answering machines

Alf is a tad bemused that a Christchurch bloke has been upset by Inland Revenue sending a letter to his dead wife, advising she could be eligible for superannuation.

If she had died recently, Alf could understand the upset.

But Mike O’Brien’s wife, Rosalie, died in 1995.

Let’s see. That’s 15 years ago.

Is he still genuinely grieving and prone to being upset by the receipt of a letter addressed to her?

Or is he just a grumpy old fart looking for a bit of attention?

He certainly had no compunction about grabbing a bit of publicity for his dead wife and himself by (presumably) taking his complaint to the media.

“I want them to know that this is not on,” O’Brien said.

“I felt like sending them a letter that she no longer lives at this address and her forwarding address is Bromley Cemetery,” he said.

So why didn’t he? It would have been a simple way of resolving the issue without much fuss.

“It is a bit upsetting and it would be more upsetting if one of the kids got it. How did they not know she died 15 years ago?

“When I saw there was a letter for my wife from Inland Revenue, all sorts of things went through my head. I was worried she owed money.”

Nah. Nothing was owed.

The letter said Rosalie O’Brien was now 65 and so could be eligible for superannuation – a stock letter sent out to those of us of a certain age when we first qualify for super.

O’Brien would be complaining, Alf suspects, if his wife were still alive and the letter had not arrived.

A genuine cause for a complaint – no, a cause for national outrage – is buried further down in the report at Stuff.

O’Brien said he had struggled to get in touch with Inland Revenue to complain.

“I rang the number about five times and you get this machine come on the line,” he said. “Then it says they will call you in 45 minutes. I haven’t got time to sit around and wait.”

The number of government departments whose officials are buffered by these electronic phone systems and their answering machines is a public disgrace.

These gadgets serve as impenetrable barriers between our civil servants and the public who pay their wages.

They should be banished.

To ensure this happens, Alf is ready to take up his pitchfork and march in the streets in support of O’Brien.

As for the letter, Inland Revenue group manager of customer operations Heather Daly apologised for the error.

“We apologise sincerely to anyone who may have been affected by a letter issued in error,” she said.

“We understand how upsetting this can be for the people concerned. We rely on family members or the executor of the estate to inform us when a customer passes away, and we normally action this information straight away.

“We process millions of transactions every year and, regrettably, errors can occasionally occur. We take such incidents very seriously and review our processes and procedures very thoroughly.”

It’s hard to argue with that. If they don’t know about a death, then the IRD may reasonably suppose someone is still alive in a country of more than 4 million people.

Even if they were advised of the death, mistakes will be made when so many transactions take place.

So let’s not get full of angst about a letter sent in error. Let’s rage instead about those bloody phones – and march to rip out the answering machines, if need be.

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