WHEN it comes to insensitivity, the Irish tax authorities take some beating. Let me explain...
My father died a month ago and I am trying to sort through his affairs and help my mother with the various financial matters that have to be dealt with.
As part of this I wrote two letters to the Revenue Commissioners outlining in detail his pension income and my mother's, including details about a private pension my mother is now due to get half of each month.
A short letter back to me from the Revenue Commissioners began: "I thank you for your recent correspondence notifying me of your late father's recent bereavement." (My father wasn't bereaved; he died. But let's leave aside the poor use of English.)
The letter was very matter-of-fact and just five paragraphs long.
But included in the envelope was a 24-page Form 11E that the tax authorities wanted filled out for the nine days of January this year for which my father was alive.
This form is not normally due until next October, and is to take account of a small piece of non-PAYE income.
The letter contained another little bombshell. It curtly mentioned that my widowed mother would have to obtain a new PPS number. The reason for this was not explained.
Thank heavens I was dealing with this, and not my mother.
Upon further investigation it turns out that in the past women who worked were assigned a PPS number that was the same as their husband's, but with the addition of the letter "W" at the end to indicate wife.
This I found out from the helpful people in Social Protection, a Government service where they are prepared to answer the phone.
The Revenue letter was signed, but no direct line was provided.
I immediately rang the Revenue phone line provided. After 10 minutes I was cut off without having spoken to a human voice.
It was one of those infuriating voice-activated telephone systems.
Cue a call to the Revenue press office. I am the first to admit that this is one of privileges of this job, that you can get to someone to make a complaint. A helpful customer service manager rang me soon afterwards.
That is an option not open to others.
I wanted to know if every family member trying to sort out the tax affairs of a deceased person gets the same curt, matter-of-fact treatment.
Worth noting is the fact that Social Protection is a dream to deal with. A named individual signed all correspondence and provided a phone number, and took the calls.
She even phoned me on my mobile at one stage to clarify something.
Revenue officials are good at dealing with tax practitioners and the self-employed.
Where consumers are concerned, the tax authority is very poor.