Those who read my blog know that from time to time I digress from my global coverage and report personal stories that take place in my country (Italy) as they relate to the themes of my research.
This is one of those posts, so anybody who is not interested in sharing my struggle as a citizen, rather than my thoughts as an analyst, is very welcome to skip reading.
Earlier this month I received a letter from the Italian Social Security Agency informing me that I could access my social security situation online through their web site. In order to do so I need a 16-character PIN code.
Now, I do remember that I got the PIN code a few years back, when there was almost no service available on line and – guess what? – not having used the site since, I lost it. I do remember that I got the first 8 digit by registering on line, and the other 8 in a sealed envelope at home.
The letter I received had room for the first 8 digits for those who are not yet registered, suggesting that the remaining 8 digits could be derived from data on the national health card that we all carry.
Unfortunately for me, as I am already registered, my copy of the letter, unlike my wife’s, does not contain any digit. I went online to see whether I could reapply for the PIN code but, when I entered my tax code (which is our unique identifier), I was told that I had already registered.
After more browsing I could not figure out any page or service to be reminded of or reassigned the PIN code. So I went to the general contact page and I filled loads of information (actually, I would expect them to know who I am and where I live from the tax code already). I naively thought that after this procedure I would be revealed what to do, but all I got was a page informing me that I would shortly receive an email that would give me a request number through which I could monitor the progress of my request.
It goes without saying that the email took a couple of hours and when I made the search (another non-intuitive experience), I was simply told that it had not been processed yet.
For one of those weird coincidences in life, I also received a letter from the tax office, informing me that my tax declaration for year 2007 was correct, but there was some credit for me. I called the call center and a very helpful employee explained me that I had a credit from year 2006 and only part of it had been used in 2007. When I asked what I was supposed to do to cash the credit, he said that I had to check whether I was really entitled the credit.
“What do you mean?” I said, “Why should I tell you something you are supposed to know?”
He answered that the remaining credit could have been used to compensate taxes due in year 2008, for which I filed my declaration in May 2009.
“Well, aren’t you supposed to know?” I observed. But he told me that declarations for year 2009 had not been processed yet, so he suggested that I go back, check and to call back if I find out I did not use the credit, so that they can activate the reimbursement procedure.
I found that interesting. They have all the data, in electronic form (tax declarations are submitted online by any sort of intermediary, including those I used) but they’d rather have the taxpayer check and trust him, rather than check themselves.
I am sure there are lots of plausible explanations for both episodes, but admittedly they do not play well from a customer service perspective.
Now, both agencies have always had a strong IT tradition and have been ahead of the pack in government technology adoption for many years. If this is the best service I can get and something as simple as “forgot password?” or a check on a data entered 15 months ago is not even part of their design, I would argue that e-government here is pretty much doomed.