Congratulations might be in order: I now have a side hustle. It’s my very own new line in part-time work, bringing variety to the mid-life grind. But keep the champagne on ice — it turns out it’s a job nobody wants: dealing with the admin that follows a bereavement.
We lost my beloved Dad just before Christmas. And ever since, instead of being able to spend valuable hours and energies grieving and bringing comfort to my widowed mother, I’ve discovered that someone has signed me up for what now seems to be known as “sadmin”— or in this case, “Dadmin”. (In case anyone is concerned about the gallows humour here, Dad would have loved this terrible joke and been similarly irritated by what it describes — he was both funny and irascible.)
Far from bringing in some extra cash and fulfilment, as a side hustle should, becoming a “Dadministrator” involves a repetitive world of work-redolent email chains, phone calls that, hydra-headed, sprout the necessity for several more, a long list of legal expenses and a retro touch — there is great enthusiasm in the bereavement notification world for old-fashioned pieces of paper and face-to-face appointments.
It’s a strange, protracted time-suck that turns losing a person you love (real human experience) into yet more of the same crap that eats up our own lives while we are still living them.
Across this sea of horror, however, a glorious beacon shines, illuminating how things might be improved, and from the unlikeliest place: the Department for Work and Pensions, which developed the excellent “Tell Us Once” service.
Back in the mid-2000s, some bright spark realised that next of kin had to contact about 44 different arms of the British state after a death, piling on extra stress. It took several years to get everyone on board and pilot a unified scheme across local council areas, but Tell Us Once was rolled out in 2011 and now, for free and in one go, takes care of informing everyone from HMRC, the passport office, DVLA and benefits office, to your local council and more — all with one code, provided when you register the death.
It is, as it were, a lifesaver for the surviving family. Compare and contrast to the endless calls to banks, building societies, insurers, utilities, charities and so on, where the private sector is, for once, limping along after the public sector.
Customer service is great on some phone lines but on others, well, not so much. Someone I know was told to “have a nice day” by the utility company after she phoned to report her parent’s death. Others say cancelling contracts is particularly tricky — no, it won’t be possible to put the account holder on the line, for obvious reasons.
One chap at the private pension provider was very keen to tell us more than once that there had been an overpayment and we owed them money — this was his less than empathetic response to the news of Dad’s death. He showed zero interest in helping us find out how much, if anything, would continue to be paid to my Mum. That took weeks to establish.
It is a lack of training, says Tremayne Carew Pole, co-founder of Life Ledger, which is trying to sign up as many private companies as possible to mimic the efficiency of Gov.uk’s Tell Us Once — partly, he says, to save the bereaved the pain of “having to have the same conversation over and over again”. He has 1,000 companies in so far (they pay rather than the user), and Carew Pole estimates the start-up is handling the admin of about 2 per cent of UK deaths. EQ, the share ownership register, also has a scheme for some financial services companies. But Life Ledger aims to tie up all the loose ends in one go rather than, as with the EQ service, just tip off the companies to get back to the family or executor within 10 days — leaving you to chase up.
So here I sit, bracing myself to tackle the large Tesco bag full of weird insurance policies that some long-defunct broker sold Dad — well after he was diagnosed with dementia, I might add.
As I plough on grimly through the yellowing files, I leave you with a final thought, since we’re speaking of an administrative afterlife.
Whoever is responsible for the Tell Us Once idea is going to heaven. And the people who can’t quite be bothered to get the private sector’s act together to help the bereaved? Well, I hear the other place is lovely and warm this time of year.
Pilita Clark will return next week