Am I alive and if not what do I do about it?

Yesterday a letter arrived from the DWP containing a 'Life Certificate'. I think many of us knew it was coming but now it is here. I have looked at it, had a good laugh and taken in the explanatory letter. I gives me eight weeks from the date of the letter, thus six and a half weeks from now, for them to receive it back or I shall be 'struck off' until they do receive it. I have a list of people who can witness and countersign it. I'll probably pop up to the mairie in the next few days and do it.

However, some thoughts spring to mind. Should I set up as an interpreter since once maires have seen a few they will just do it without second thought but lots of people who have never learned French properly, if at all, for whatever reason will need to know what he or she is asking or saying. I also thought of, and tried, to see if the DWP has an open version on line so that it can be at least translated using a good software (not Google please, it could be highly embarrassing...) but no there is not. So, perhaps I should scan it in then run software so that in 10 or so minutes I have a version of what is necessary for those who are witnessing and countersigning can actually read it.

If I remember rightly, Gideon Osbourne put this on the books back in 2013, passed it on to Iain Duncan Smith whose DWP refined it into what I have just received. It would appear that only about 15% of expatriate pensioners receive these proof of life certificates. At the time a treasury official said, “We pay a bit of money to dead pensioners because we do not know they are dead or the information takes a good while to filter through. In most cases, the families keep the money because we have no jurisdiction to claim it back.”

That statement was met with fury by pensioners who see it as yet another twist of the knife to make life harder for people who dare to live outside the UK claiming state pension. The common feeling is that they have not fared well under government rulings in the last few years. The winter fuel payment is the obvious one that springs to mind and the frozen pensions for those who live in Australia, Canada and wide spread of other countries. Thus far it is not possible in the EU or trouble will ensue. If the UK leaves the EU then I think we all know by now on which side our bread is buttered.

However, an official statement some time ago did mention that the rule only applies to countries that do not automatically exchange personal and financial information with Britain. Now, as far as I know, France does, at least they get it from the UK whenever necessary. One would expect that to be a two way process. OK, we are dealing with the DWP who have laws made by IDS that neither correspond with actual UK law or anybody else's.

Then, finally, the list of people who can actually countersign it is the same as those who can do it for a passport application. So logically all of this must be salient:

The countersignatory must:

  • have known the person applying for at least two years

  • be able to identify the person applying, eg they’re a friend, neighbour or colleague (not just someone who knows them professionally)

So, if you have moved within the last two years you are in a bit of a stitch. I suppose the same goes for those of us who have lost our marbles, are ill or perhaps in a coma or semi-comatose state. It looks very badly conceived to me because it really does not accommodate exceptions and there are always exceptional circumstances. Perhaps that is part of the plot. Then, countersignatory must work in (or be retired from) a recognised profession or be ‘a person of good standing in their community’ within and beyond this list of examples:

  • accountant

  • airline pilot

  • articled clerk of a limited company

  • assurance agent of recognised company

  • bank/building society official

  • barrister

  • chairman/director of limited company

  • chiropodist

  • commissioner of oaths

  • councillor, eg local or county

  • civil servant (permanent), but not someone who works for Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO)

  • dentist

  • director/manager/personnel officer of a VAT-registered company

  • engineer - with professional qualifications

  • financial services intermediary, eg a stockbroker or insurance broker

  • fire service official

  • funeral director

  • insurance agent (full time) of a recognised company

  • journalist

  • Justice of the Peace

  • legal secretary - fellow or associate member of the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs

  • licensee of public house

  • local government officer

  • manager/personnel officer of a limited company

  • member, associate or fellow of a professional body

  • Member of Parliament

  • Merchant Navy officer

  • minister of a recognised religion - including Christian Science

  • nurse - RGN or RMN

  • officer of the armed services

  • optician

  • paralegal - certified paralegal, qualified paralegal or associate member of the Institute of Paralegals

  • person with honours, eg an OBE or MBE

  • pharmacist

  • photographer - professional

  • police officer

  • Post Office official

  • president/secretary of a recognised organisation

  • Salvation Army officer

  • social worker

  • solicitor

  • surveyor

  • teacher, lecturer

  • trade union officer

  • travel agent - qualified

  • valuer or auctioneer - fellows and associate members of the incorporated society

  • Warrant Officers and Chief Petty Officers

It does not entirely correspond with the list on the letter but the DWP website refers on to this. It does not include estate agents, well OK, it includes journalists which some people may shudder at, people with honours, who might be totally gaga but as long as they have a gong and, tra-la-la-la, funeral directors. The latter made me think. Of this assorted list of eligible people that is the one who might both sign my certificate and nail down my lid at the same time.

So, given that I am probably alive, why do I have to deal with it like this? I am treating it lightly, having a spot of fun and laughter, but that does not mean I have not seen the more sinister, dark side of its purpose and the chain or errors beginning with the classic forgotten letter, the one that got lost in the post so that the pensioner has no idea and off into realms on many reasons why it can all go wrong. So. I cynically chose my discussion title in the same vein as the way the DWP and its great leader treat us.

...and we all know who the minister is. Since he seems to be in possession of a fast moving conveyor belt of stupid, very expensive and time consuming ideas are we surprised?

It had probably been suggested by the Minister and nobody ever has the guts to say that it is a stupid idea. Learned from the personal experience of my OH.

In defence of the procedure; you know how in parts of Japan loads of people live for 100+ years. Well they don't, it's just that the rellies don't report the death and continue to live off the deceased's pension.

This is obviously a new government job creation scheme for school leavers just out of shorts who have been reading too many comics. I bet that they are on zero hours; they are certainly welcome to their useless petty minded jobs! Is this part of the falls of the rate of unemployment? I need a gin and tonic! Don't mention this to the Daily Mail. I wonder if the Tories are going to whip up some wonderful statistic on the before the election? I feel the influence of ID-S.

I think I'll send a photo of me sitting on a deckchair in the garden with a bottle of wine at my side "Down but not out!" with love from sunny France just to get up their nasal passages a little! Plus a copy of today's newspaper in the foreground like a hostage victim! I haven't got an orange boiler suit though..........

Never mind all those lovely pensions which they get- sometimes big salary increases a few months before they retire so their final leaving salary multiple is generous. They are retiring often not because they want to stop work but become consultants in the private sector for another bite of the cherry....makesyerwannabesickdon'tit!

I used to work for a company that managed the IT systems for DWP. At one point, we suggested a way of improving the processes that would drastically reduce paperwork and make things easier for "customers" (i.e. DWP's victims) and the DWP staff. Shock horror! This was stamped on very quickly, probably for exactly the reasons that Peter just stated.

Doreen - It was when I called to ask the DWP for the French version that this 'customer advisor' pretty much insisted that I go down the Certificat de Vie road.

Why couldn't they suggest that when they send out the forms, you might well ask. In practice, it's because making life easier for their 'customers' is the last thing on their minds. The more people who call them up unnecessarily, the larger the staff needed for the call centres. That leads to bigger contracts and higher staff grades all the way up the line. I can just see Sir Humphrey suggesting these bl**dy Life Certificates to his Minister in the first place.

It has been said to me in jest that "the first duty of a public servant is to ensure work for other public servants", but my experience has been that it often really does work like that! (The saying came from my brother, an Australian Public Service efficiency auditor.)

A good chuckle and a stamp plus a reminder about 'Allo 'Allo. It's got to be worth it just for that ;-)

Extraordinary this popping up. Yesterday I had a call from the DWP about my form. When I had it done at the mairie an adjointe maire was there. He did the necessary when the secretary asked him. When I got to my car I looked and he had forgotten something that requires our passport numbers to prove he had seen it. So, I went back in. First time round he had used the secretary's pen, now she was on the phone so he grabbed a felt tip out of a pot, did what he had too and made some joke about age and our memories. Off I toddled and sent it off.

I got the call to ask whether more than one person had filled it in. I asked what she meant and then she explained. She kind of insinuated that I had done it myself. So I said that had I done it I would have taken care to use a pen of the same thickness and matching colour and not a felt tip. She asked me to go to have it filled in again, emailed me a fresh one and being a day when the mairie is open I went this morning. The secretary laughed, grabbed a different adjointe maire who did it correctly, with one pen and nothing missing. Off it went in the post.

I shall now wait to see whether the fact that a different adjointe maire filled it in draws their attention. Had I known about the Certificat de Vie that Peter mentioned I would have asked for one of those as well. Anyway, what appeals to my sense of humour is that Ms Jobsworth of the DWP called, asked me if I am who I am, born on such and such a date and I said 'Yes, do you need something from me?' or something like that. Does that alone not simply prove that I am alive and walking this planet or is only a very easily faked document valid?

All very well but surely the UK and French governments are trying to reduce paperwork etc. No sooner do they get rid of one and substitute with two. Are these annoyances going to be annual occurences I wonder? That is if we don't die sooner because we can't afford to heat our homes now that the WFP is going. These pensioners are d****d irritating. Looking forward to not loading the woodburner four or five times a day! When we all get brain implants I suppose that these certificates will be irrelevant?

A 'customer advisor' at the DWP has just assured me that the simplest way for French residents to deal with their DWP Life Certificates is to get a 'Certificat de Vie' from their Mairie. This is then returned to the DWP, along with the duly completed, and signed, Customer Declaration, leaving the Witness Declaration blank. In my case, the Witness Declaration is on the reverse of the Customer Declaration, which makes it easy.

It's pretty simple to get the 'Certificat de Vie', and you can fill most of it in before even going to the Mairie. Get more information here & a copy of the form here. You only need the second part if you need a Certificate for someone who isn't well enough to go to the Mairie themselves, when you have to take your, and their, passports.

Where the French form asks for 'Autorité étrangère destinataire', I put Department for Work & Pensions (GB).

I took my life certificate to my Doctor...and when I left he said that he was

glad to say that I was still alive.

That's an easy one.........
The right are getting it all - nothing to rant about!

Why are rants left wing? Please answer that precisely without any rude undertones.

Did you not turn over the page and read the section at the end headed " Help and advice" in bold print ?

There you are given the option to phone ( listing the 12 hours the lines are open ) or write if you have any problems and even give you a reference number to quote .The whole operation took less than 10 minutes - far,far less time than you took to right your little(?) piece!!

No , sorry Brian , did not notice the " tongue in cheek " , just your normal ( and often amusing ) left-wing rants, with the usual paranoia under tones at anything slightly right of Keir Hardie !!!!

Of itself there is no issue, which is why I treated it sardonically. It is how it happens DWP style.

We only have about 270 people in our Commune, but there was no problem as they already do the same for German and Swiss residents. It is a well understood procedure.

Read the post again and notice that I wrote tongue in cheek. As for the information, well since they do not send that out with the stuff I received so that people who have time to phone the DWP's international pension centre find these things out. Not people who simply receive and act on them. So, whilst some of us are trying to do something about DWP's other actions, you missed the irony and not notice how this connects tangentially with other capers such as winter fuel payments, potential for a pension freeze if the UK was pulled out of the EU...