I don’t like January.
I don’t think anyone has ever rated the months of the year before (admittedly, it does sound like something I might have done, during my rather unpopular run of ‘chart’ blogs in 2016, but the closest I ever came was placing the four seasons in order – and I don’t mean Frankie Valli et al.).
Anyway, if someone were to ever rate the months of the year, from best to worst (don’t worry, I won’t), then there is no doubt which would feature as the despised little runt of the litter: January. We all hate January. If January were a person, it would be Piers Morgan.
“Hands up if you’re a dickhead”
I suppose, in hindsight, I didn’t need to write an entire blog entry explaining why January is so terrible, because everyone knows it’s the worst month by some margin; however a simple tweet or Facebook status, along the lines of ‘January is shit’, wouldn’t really do my hatred justice. I need you to fully appreciate the extent of my loathing, and the reasoning behind it. Besides, I’ve started writing now, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to start the new year off as a quitter.
The thing is, we all know the usual reasons for January being so insufferably crap:
- Bleak (but not festive) weather;
- The disappointment that Christmas is now a distant memory, and it will be at least another 2-3 months before the next one (the wait for Christmas shortens as you get older);
- The utter pointlessness of New Year’s Resolutions;
- The fact you are expected to start exercising and eating healthily again, after a few weeks of revolting gluttony and borderline alcoholism (for which you feel absolutely no remorse whatsoever);
- Friends and colleagues giving up alcohol for the month, and encouraging you to join them, even though alcohol is the only thing likely to see everyone’s safe passage through to February, then onwards to the blissful haven of March;
- You’re skint, fat, cold, and wet. Or, at least, that’s how you (I) feel.
However, in recent years, thanks to the childcare scheme rolled out in this fine country of ours, I now have a whole new reason to detest the first calendar month of the year: the self-assessment tax return. Or, as I like to call it, the ‘soul-destroying-questionnaire-of-impossible-fucking-questions’.
In theory, my tax-return should not be overly complicated, because I am neither self-employed, nor in receipt of any benefits, but the sadistic folks at HMRC like to make even simple questions appear difficult, so that you feel stupid, inferior and, worst of all, a fraudster.
I consider myself to be a moderately well-educated man, but for some reason my brain freezes when interrogated (for there can be no other description) by the tyrants at HMRC. Whether it be the overly-complicated language they use (and I say this as a lawyer), or the intimidating threats of JAIL FOR THE REST OF YOUR PITIFULLY INFERIOR LIFE if you answer any question even slightly incorrectly, suddenly even simple queries pose a problem.
That said, each year – this will be my fourth – the completion of the tax return itself is relatively easy, when compared to the virtual gauntlet you must complete to actually access their stupidly over-complicated system in the first place. As I type these words, during the second week of January, I am still yet to start this year’s tax return (which is due by the end of the month), because I cannot successfully circumnavigate the log-in page – and I’ve been trying since the start of the year.
Unlike nearly every other online system in the world, which relies on asking you basic stuff you already know (such as your name, e-mail address, date of birth, etc.), the HMRC log-in page asks you for your ‘User ID’, followed by your password.
I am normally quite confident of knowing my password, as it is usually a variation on a similar theme (apart from one of the websites we use at work, which has now asked me to update my password so many times – without using any of the previous five hundred – that I recently lost my patience, and changed it to ‘fuckyouandyourfuckingsystem123@’. Unfortunately, it transpires I’d already used ‘fuckyouandyourfuckingsystem123’ previously).
It’s the UserID which is the problem. Every year, I promise myself that I will write it down and keep it safe somewhere, and whilst I have no doubt that I did this last January, that was one whole year ago, and these days I can barely remember what I ate for dinner the night before.
I’ve naturally checked my ‘things to keep safe’ drawer, but all I found was a plug adaptor for a mobile phone I stopped using four years ago, a match programme from when Stockport County won the play-off final in 2008, and the Christmas card I bought for the boys to give my wife last Christmas (2016). That final discovery was met with much swearing, not least because I spotted the fucking thing in November, and promised myself I’d remember it this year.
Anyway, the bottom line is, I don’t have the first clue what my UserID might be. I’ve checked, and it’s apparently twelve (random) digits long, which means I have a 1 in 479,001,600 chance of successfully guessing it. Aside from Donald Trump securing a second term as President, I can’t think of anything with such pitifully miniscule odds.
Fortunately, the good people at HMRC anticipated such a scenario, and under the log-in section, there is a handy list of links to help you if you are having problems. Simply by clicking ‘Forgotten Your User ID?’, you are immediately taken to another page, where you are re-assured that this can easily be sent to you, so long as you answer a couple of security questions. ‘Excellent’, I thought, ‘Mother’s maiden name? First pet? Favourite member of Girls Aloud? Hit me, HMRC, I’m ready’.
What follows, is a dramatised account of my exchanges with the log-in page thereafter…
HMRC: Firstly, all you need to do, is enter your name and e-mail address.
Me: Not a problem, HMRC, I know this shit like the back of my hand. Then you’ll send me the UserID, right?
HMRC: Actually, no, we then need to know your date of birth and National Insurance number.
Me: Oh, ok, fair enough. I definitely know the former, and can make a pretty confident stab at the latter. Now can I have my UserID?
HMRC: Soon. Just one more bit of information, then we’ll confirm it for you. We just need your Unique Taxpayer Reference.
Me: My what?
HMRC: Your Unique Taxpayer Reference.
Me: Where would I find that?
HMRC: It’s on last year’s Tax Return.
Me: Let’s assume I didn’t print off a copy. Where would I locate last year’s Tax Return?
HMRC: No problem, just log-in and there’s a copy saved for you.
Me: But I can’t log-in without the UserID, can I?
Me: And you won’t give me the UserID without the Unique Taxpayer Reference?
Me: Do you see the problem here?
HMRC: Ok, look, we like you. We really do. So, here’s a hint: the Unique Taxpayer Reference is usually nine digits long, and sometimes ends with a K.
Me: That’s not very helpful.
HMRC: Why not?
Me: Because I don’t know the eight remaining digits, do I? It’s not like telling me it ends with a K is suddenly going to jog my memory, and I’ll go ‘ohhhh, that Unique Taxpayer Reference.’
HMRC: Go on, have a guess.
Me: Are you taking the piss now?
HMRC: A little. Ok, seeing as everything else hasn’t worked, how about we post it to you?
Me: Well, what if – wait, what? You can do that?
Me: But I’ve given you none of the additional security details you’ve asked for. I’ve not even told you my favourite member of Girls Aloud.
HMRC: It’s ok, we trust you, so we’ll post the UserID out as soon as possible. After all, you’ll still need the password to log in, and that’s the important bit anyway, so it’s all perfectly secure.
Me: Well, if that’s the case, how about you just tell me the UserID now, to save time?
HMRC: Oh no, we can’t do that. It’s ok, we’ll post it out to you. You’ve still got three weeks or so before the deadline to complete your tax return anyway, so it should be fine.
Me: Should? How long does it usually take for the UserID to arrive?
HMRC: About three weeks.
If it does arrive in time, I’m going to change my password to ‘fuckyouandyourfuckingsystem123@’, just to make a point.
Then, I’m going to get my UserID tattooed onto my body (or, at the very least, one of the children), to avoid this farce happening again next January.
Oh, and it’s Kimberley, in case you were wondering.
Thanks for reading.