Friday, March 22, 2013

If you've done six impossible things before breakfast... might feel like tackling the paperwork required to release an item which has been impounded by the UK Border Agency.

This is something of an occupational hazard at LensesForHire.  Whenever we send something to a customer in Jersey or Guernsey (which are not part of the UK, and not part of the EU), there's a chance that it will get held up at customs on the way back.  We're pretty good these days at getting equipment into Jersey and Guernsey without problems, and we try to get all the documentation in place so that it can come back in to the UK smoothly, but it's not guaranteed.  UKBA seem to be something of a law unto themselves.

And that's where the fun starts.  To get an incoming consignment released from UKBA, you have to fill in a C88A form which they very helpfully send you.  This is what it looks like:

Terrifying, isn't it?  There are 58 boxes to be completed, some of which have multiple sections.  There's an official notice on the HMRC web site which purports to tell you how to fill the form in, but it only mentions 28 of the boxes, and it refers you to various other official documents which are not conveniently available online.

The first time we had to complete one of these, it was a Kafkaesque nightmare.  It took about 10 hours of online research, 8 telephone calls to the HMRC helpline, and 6 attempts to complete the form before it was accepted.  Now we've kept a copy of the form which was finally accepted, so we use that as a template, and - unless the rules have changed, which they do from time to time - it's all reasonably straightforward.

But still, it's totally impenetrable.  It reminds me of a time back in the 90s when a friend worked for a small software company which got taken over by Microsoft, and he was offered a job in Seattle.  This was before Starbucks had taken over the world, but the coffee shop culture was thriving in Seattle, and he found out very quickly that ordering a coffee in Seattle was completely unlike the UK, where the choice was basically black or white, and how many sugars.  He was amazed that a work colleague could ask for a "double tall 2% wet cappuccino", and the person behind the counter would give him a cup of very nice coffee in return.  So he learned the mantra, even though he didn't really understand what any of the terms meant.

And it's just like that here.  What on earth does this mean?
Or this?
Or this?

I have no idea whatsoever.  It's complete voodoo.  But it works.  I've learned that if I write these things on the form, I will (probably!) receive a lens in the post in a couple of days time, and that's good enough for me.

Right, now I'm just off to prove Goldbach's conjecture.