It is possible I could have been taken by the blue boys before you reach the end of the column. I was sent a “warning notice”.

My crime was to have bought and maintained a car 27+ years ago. I claimed I was helping the environment. 

Replacing a medium-sized car like mine with a new one generates a carbon footprint of 17 tonnes —the equivalent of three years’ worth of gas and electricity in a typical UK home.

The average car owner changes it five-six times every 27 years. I have literally stopped global warming by saving the planet.

The knighthood was not what I had in mind. It was just that I didn’t think it would lead to me being punished. 

But Transport for London has changed emission rules so we OACs (Owners of Ancient Cars) who live within the North and South Circular roads must now fork out £12.50 every time we drive anywhere. Every day, except Christmas.

This meant that I had to set up an account in order to pay the fees. That was what I did and I got confirmation email that my account was activated. 

The lives of big companies and government officials are made so much easier if we customers or clients can be kept at arm's length, writes JOHN HUMPHRYS

JOHN HUMBHRYS says that big business and government employees can have their lives made easier by keeping customers and clients at arms length.

So I set off. I received the Warning Notice a few days later.

Puzzled I went to the website, but I couldn’t find anything. My password for my account wasn’t accepted immediately. 

I dialed the phone number listed on their website. I got no response. The problem was my pin. 

Maybe my account number. Perhaps my customer identification. My PCN number. That was all. It didn’t matter what I said. I quit.

My innocence was being taken advantage of by the digital age, in which algorithms reign supreme.

In the past, people could speak to other humans to solve their problems. These days, however, are long gone. 

Big companies’ lives and the lives of government officials can be made easier by keeping customers and clients at arms length. 

This was long before the pandemic. Covid gave it a rocket boost.

If you have a complaint about the heating engineer’s tardiness, it is much simpler to quote Covid.

They find it easier. It’s not for you. 

It is enough to continue listening to the message that informs you that they value your call. However, because of Covid restrictions, you may not be reached immediately.

It’s a lot of junk. Although it is possible to patch through calls using modern technology, even if the ‘Covid limitations’ were still in place and call handlers were required to work from home. 

However, it is not true. But it’s not true any more. You can get to work in five minutes if you are willing to wait on a bus or Tube during rush hour.

This assumes your company really wants you at work. 

Statisticians show that office workers are saving a lot of money when they choose to work from home rather than in expensive office space.

Private companies have the least amount of power, but customers do not lose any. You can always get our business elsewhere.

The system worked well for me when the alarm went off in my house and my neighbor, who was suffering from insomnia, kept being awakened at night.

It's so much easier to cite Covid if you're dealing with a customer who wants to complain about the heating engineer not turning up

If you have a complaint about the heating engineer failing to show up, it is much simpler to refer to Covid.

The recorded messages I received from them were so compelling that they made me spend hours listening, not only warning me about the impending visit of an engineer, but also asking me how many people don’t have washbasins.

I finally cracked and said that I was moving companies. Result. The engineer arrived. Although not on the date promised, let us be grateful for little mercies.

This option is not available if you have to deal with a government department. It’s especially important if the HMRC is involved.

It would have been a miracle if you didn’t feel Ben Wilkinson’s pain a few days before. 

He was forced to listen for the horrible music, as well as the even more disturbing recorded messages, before he could speak with an actual person.

After that, the human informed him that she couldn’t help him as she hadn’t been properly trained for this specific problem. 

Then he was forced to begin again. This is the scary thing about this. Ben isn’t alone. 

HMRC cannot claim an unusually high volume of calls.

This month’s annual report shows that they have received 33,000,000 calls during the previous financial year. 

It’s 8 millions less than last year. In 2004, only 15% of calls were made in more than ten minutes. The number of callers waiting more than 10 minutes has more than tripled since 2004.

This is not a simple inconvenience. Taxman has immense power. Quite right, too. 

Taxes are something that everyone has to pay. Even the most meticulous citizen can make mistakes. 

Plus there are many fraudsters out there — sometimes aided and abetted by dubious accountants — who should be in jail rather than their Caribbean tax haven.

There are innocent victims who risk being visited by creditors agencies and fines for not paying their debts.

On the other end of the balance sheet, there are people who have to wait for months to get refunds of money that they shouldn’t have paid.

Ironically, HMRC offers an ironic service called “Where’s My Reply?” Ironically, the HMRC website offers a service called “Where’s my reply?”. I just discovered it. 

I went on the website, claimed (a slight white lie), that I had asked about my self assessment a few days earlier.

It said I should expect to hear back by June 2. This is six months. Oh … and if I still hadn’t had a reply I could try phoning. There is one answer: A hollow laugh.

You could imagine your doctor telling that you should not worry about the grim diagnosis. He will probably tell you to relax because you are likely dead within a few days.

HMRC should be commended for being honest and admitting it isn’t exactly covering its tracks in glory. 

Ironically, the HMRC website offers a service called 'Where's my reply?' I say 'ironically' because I've just checked it out

Ironically, HMRC offers an ironic service called “Where’s My Reply?” Ironically, HMRC offers an online service called “Where is my Reply?”

Oder, in its own words, “not fulfilling the ambition of being a trusted modern tax and customs division.”

It might be a good idea if customer service staff did not work from home only 1 day per week.

It’s possible that there is something else. Covid serves as a pretext for making us give up any chance of speaking to someone who can actually help.

According to the Institute of Customer Service, more than half of our interactions with public and private companies are now digital.

You might also like to know, that they won’t be taking me away from them after all.

Transport for London staff were both friendly and knowledgeable. 

This newspaper gave me the opportunity to speak publicly. Most do not.

We are losing even the semblance we used to consider customer service.

The computer screens behind us are not human, but an algorithm. We’re left speaking to them. A recorded phone announcement may respond to our requests for assistance.

It seems as if any compassion for customer-provider relationship has completely disappeared. That’s very, very sad.