I received a demand the other day.
Cough up €500 or else we will make your life more miserable than you ever thought possible.
It was from Social Welfare.
Now I had better explain the background to this, and it is really very very simple.
When you do any paid work here you pay what the euphemistically call a "stamp". When you retire, you get paid the "Contributory Pension" at an amount determined by the number of stamps you have. Do a full lifetime's work and you get a full pension. Simple?
Well, no. Most of my working life was spent in RTE and as that is a "semi-state" organisation, I paid for a different stamp that essentially entitled me to nothing. It certainly counted for squat when it comes to reckoning pension rates.
However, before I worked in RTE I had worked for a couple of years in industry, so I had a few stamps lingering in my account from the Seventies. There still wasn't enough to entitle me to a pension though.
When I left RTE I started my own little business, and being self employed I started paying stamps again. But then I decided to shut my business because it was too much hassle even though it was doing very well. So what about my stamps? I barely had enough to qualify for a minimum pension.
So they have what they call a "Voluntary Contribution" which basically means that I send off a cheque every year, and each cheque buys me a ful year's stamps. So each year I have been bunging off these cheques and I finally crossed the hurdle where I was not only entited to a pension, but was climbing towards a decent level.
The letter I received was for last years stamp, as they always demand retrospectively.
I boiled up the kettle yesterday, made myself a pile of sandwiches and filled a bottle of tranquilisers. As soon as I had all the essentials for a long and tedious call to one of our illustrious gubmint departments, I phoned them. I got through straight away!
I explained to the very pleasant chap on the other end that they were demanding a stamp off me but I was already being paid the pension. He sounded confused. He hummed and hawed for a few moments and told me I was onto Social Welfare [Voluntary Payments] section but that I should be talking to Social Welfare [Voluntary Pensions] section, which is incidentally at the other end of the country. He offered to put me through.
Social Welfare [Voluntary Pensions] section answered the phone very promptly an pleasantly, and what could they possibly do to make my life a little brighter. I explained the situation as best I could and that I had two questions – if I didn’t pay the demand, would my pension be stopped, and if I did pay it, I would have an extra stamp and would that mean more pension? The girl also sounded a tad confused but not quite as confused as my friend in Social Welfare [Voluntary Payments]. Maybe I wasn't the first to come up with what I thought would be a common occurrence?
"Hold on a sec" says she, and I heard the frantic banging of keyboards. It went on for some time. Finally she came back to me.
"Paying that won't entitle you to any extra payments, as you'd still be in the same band rate".
"So there isn't much point in paying it then?"
"Not really. You won't get anything for it."
"But they promised to kill all the firstborn of all my future descendants if I don't pay?"
"Don't mind that. They're bluffing."
"So if I pay, I get nothing and if I don't pay you won't suddenly stop my pension?"
"That's it in a nutshell. Your pension is safe."
I thanked her and disconnected. The whole procedure had taken about ten minutes and I hadn't even touched my sandwiches or my tranquilisers. Amazing!
I fucked the demand for €500 into the bin.