Many moons ago I was asked by some colleagues to take part in a prototyping session for some pages they were building for the new process of signing up for concessionary travel via our website.

My role was two-fold. As the comms person I gave a sense check to the wordage. But I, and a few others invited along, were also there to make sure that there were no unexpected outcomes in the logic of the process.

My efforts to claim Universal Credit yesterday seem not to have had the same level of foresight.

The old account

Now: pay attention at the back.

Before starting the job I’ve just finished, I had an open Universal Credit claim. That meant opening an account first. The account is still there, but because I don’t have a claim currently open I can’t log in without giving some numbers from my PSN. I assume this stands for Personal Security Number. More to the point, I don’t have my PSN, as an email, letter, anything. When I opened that account, in 2021, we were still in the Covid Times.

That’s not a problem though, because I can call the helpline and get another one.

This rings a worrying bell. I’d had a Universal Credit claim in 2018/19 as well, and couldn’t revive that account either.

So I called… and was told no, just start another claim.

Starting the claim isn’t the issue here – I’m trying to get into the account. So either the website is lying and you can’t get a new PSN, or the call handler script is lying and you can. Whatever. I’ll start a new claim with a new account.

And this is where the fun really begins.

The new account

Obviously – obviously! – I can’t use the same username as last time, so I have to create on that none of the other millions of claimants have used. Then I have to supply an email address… except my email address is linked to the previous account.

And there we stop. A complete dead end. No option to offer up a different email address, just a hard stop. You can’t use the same email address, so end of application.

How many email addresses do you have, Dear Reader? For personal use, I mean?

Almost every would-be claimant will have just the one. And if they have to create a new Outlook or Gmail one, will they know how to add it to a mobile phone, or remember to check it daily, just for any Universal Credit emails?

Fortunately for me I have my own domain (different to the one I used in 2018/19, thanksfully) and can spin up an address. But rather than do that I created a forwarder, so that any emails sent to it are forwarded on to my ‘real’ address – much easier that way, no separate account to check (or forget to check).

The second new account

Then, back to the start and creating an account.

Obviously – obviously! – I can’t use the username I created 10 minutes earlier as… well, I don’t know why really. That account wasn’t set up, so why can’t I reuse the username?

Miraculously, I find a new username and plough on. New email address accepted. Now to supply a mobile phone number so that they can call me… but my mobile phone number is linked to the previous active account.

How many mobile phone numbers do you have, Dear Reader? For personal use, I mean?

Fortunately, in this case I can add one of the virtual numbers I got yonks ago for business use (not that there’s any business) as an “alternative contact number” and move on to the next stage. If you call it, it forwards to my mobile phone. Good luck trying to text it though, it’s a geographic number. But if you don’t have an alternative phone number, what then? How many peopl have more than one number, let alone two?

Wrapping it up

Note that this all before I open an actual Universal Credit claim. At which point I need to verify my identity (my Government Gateway userid comes in handy here, but not everyone will have one).

But here’s the thing. The underlying technology also powers other Government-related activities.

I have an HMRC Unique Tax Reference number. I can log on to their website, view my PAYE contributions, my National Insurance record (going back to 1983), sign up for Self Assessment, all sorts of things. There’s even an app.

I have an NHS number. I can log on to their website, look at my appointments and order prescriptions, all sorts of things. There’s even an app. There’s also the NHS Jobs site, which remembers me from previous applications.

As for the DWP and Universal Credit… it’s almost as if they don’t want to hand over any money. If I have to verify myself on the new account using my Government Gateway ID, why can’t I use that to re-access the 2021 account?

By my count I now have four Universal Credit accounts: the one I had in 2018/19, the one I had in 2021, the one I failed to open above and the one I now have. I have to upload lots of information that hasn’t changed since I opened the 2021 account, go through the whole process of counting my kids, co-tenants, proving what my rent is, where I live and who I am.

If I get a new, temporary work contract and this claim is closed, I’ll have to go through the whole sign-up process again… so I’m going to need a new phone number, at least.

And all for the want of gaining access to my old account by resetting a Personal Security Number, which everyone else seems to manage to do.