Well, I'm amazed. It was a genuine call - HMRC really have started phoning people just to remind them to fill in their Tax Credits renewal. Even though they haven't actually sent out the renewal packs yet. Apparently they've just started this week, which is why googling didn't get me anything.
I phoned up the Tax Credits Helpline soon after nine this morning and worked my way through seventeen layers of menus. Then I spoke to someone who sounded like he was talking through his breakfast, and I kept having to ask him to repeat himself. I told him several times that it was only a general enquiry and I hadn't phoned to talk about my account, but he insisted on going through security.
As usual, I failed. These questions are so difficult to answer that I can never remember from one call to the next which way I decided to answer the question. For example this time it was "What was the name of the street you grew up on?" I vaguely remember being confused by this question when I was first asked it, because I didn't grow up "on a street". I was lucky enough to grow up "in a house", or a succession of houses. To me, a more natural way of wording the question would be "What was the name of the road you lived in when you were a child?". But either way, do they mean the road I lived in until I was three? Or until I was eighteen? Or the road I lived in during the period I actually grew up, ie between about 23 and 27? I have no idea what answer I gave first time round, and it would seem I got it wrong this time.
Luckily, unlike Barclays - who once told me on the phone that because I had failed security they were freezing my account and I would never be able to access it again - this guy just told me we would have to set up new passwords. Cue deep sigh.
So the first question was "Where were you born, ie name of town or village?" - not a good start. I flatly refuse to use as security a piece of information which is available for anyone to find on the internet in ten seconds, and I told him so. (Also I don't see why I should spend the rest of my fucking life keeping secret where I come from because it's a security item. I'd like to be able to tell people where I come from, how old I am, when my birthday is.) He said it wasn't possible to change it, it was just what the system came up with.
So I told him again I was NOT going to use that for security, because I am the only person with my name in the country, and anyone can find out on the internet where I was born. (I just tested it - OK, so I know which free website to go to*, but it took me less than ten seconds to go to the site and type in my name. Up came not only the registration district I was born in, but also my mother's maiden name, which is the reason I get angry with people who try to make me use that for security. The site also shows which three-month period I was born in, so even without the unique name anyone who knows your birthday and roughly how old you are knows your full date of birth.) After I'd explained all this to him, fairly politely but with repeated use of phrases like "I WILL NOT USE AS SECURITY ITEMS INFORMATION WHICH IS PUBLICLY AVAILABLE ON THE INTERNET", we moved on to my father's main occupation. At least the only problem with that is deciding how to describe it.
So anyway, once I'd given him my NI number etc, and he'd looked at my account, he confirmed that they really have called me - twice (no answer the first time). I was gobsmacked, and told him so. I also asked if whoever came up with this brilliant concept had any idea how many cold callers, "Microsoft" technicians, PPI compensation salesmen, etc, people have to deal with during the average day, and I said I really didn't think anyone was actually going to answer their security questions.
Which raises another question, of course. If they're just calling to remind you to renew your Tax Credits earlier than usual, why do security at all? Why not just say "If you have Tax Credits, you should renew them now. If you don't, sorry to have bothered you."
Jesus. I really, really, don't want to hear that the Government has joined the ranks of people trying to stop me getting anything done because I have to keep stopping to answer the damn phone. Maybe I should ask the school to use my mobile number in future, and then I can just stop answering the landline altogether.