Me: Hello, how can I help you?
Him: (Slowly removes coat, hat and scarf, sits down on chair and crosses legs. I am filled with a sense of foreboding.) Hello. I have a problem with my household benefits.
(Household benefits is a small amount of money given to the long-term unemployed towards phone, tv costs etc. It is not my area and he is not in the correct office, but I will listen to the problem and see what I can do.)
Me: Ok. Let’s have a look here. What is your PPS number?
Him: (Spends several minutes trying to locate it. As this is rush hour, the queue behind him begins to lengthen.) 1234567Z
Me: Ok. Tom. What seems to be the problem?
Him: Well, on the fifth of October I closed my telephone account with Eircom. I don’t use the phone anymore. It’s just of no use to me. I have a mobile phone for emergencies. And today they sent me this. (Slides a bill for €8.03 across the counter to me, dated November 11th.)
Me: What can I do for you?
Him: Well, can you sort this out or not?
Me: What do you mean?
Him: (Getting irate) I closed this account!!
Me: Tom this is the social welfare office. I can’t do anything about your Eircom bill. You need to contact Eircom and tell them that you have closed your account and they have issued a bill to you in error.
Him: They sent me down from upstairs! (Upstairs is the maintenance section for open claims. I work in the new claims section.) They said you would sort this out for me!
Me: I’m sorry, they must have misunderstood your query. As I said, you will need to contact Eircom yourself and tell them that you have closed your account and they have issued a bill to you in error.
Him: How am I supposed to do that?
Me: (Examining the bill) You need to ring this number here.
Him: (Looking at me like I am a moron) …I don’t have a phone!
Me: You are welcome to use our phones over here (I gesture to the public phone area). They are free for public use: just dial 3 for an outside line.
Him: Why can’t you ring them for me?
Me: Tom, this is the social welfare office. We did not send you the bill. You must contact the people who sent you the bill. I cannot ring Eircom and sit on hold on your behalf. This has nothing to do with me or this office. This is a private matter between you and your phone provider.
Him: Fine! (He storms off, leaving his coat, hat and scarf on the chair. I decide to continue calling other customers in spite of his marking his territory.)
(3 minutes later)
Him: I couldn’t get through. (Sits down at my desk again.)
Me: Tom I don’t know what to say. You just have to keep trying.
Him: Well, I can’t get through.
Me: (Beginning to lose it slightly) I understand that you are frustrated about being issued a bill that you were not expecting but it is up to you to contact Eircom to resolve this.
Him: But I can’t get through.
Me: Perhaps you could write them a letter of complaint and enclose a copy of the bill. Would you like me to copy the bill for you?
Him: Yes, ok.
(I go to copy the bill. There are now six other customers waiting. To my horror, neither of the photocopiers is working. About to do my nut, I have the brainwave of using the fax to make a copy. I return to my desk.)
Me: There you are.
Me: So you should write to them and enclose that copy of the bill Tom.
Him: What is the address?
(Trying not to snatch it or explode, I examine the bill. There is no address listed. I begin to hate Eircom almost as much as I hate this encounter. I google for an address for Eircom customer complaints, eventually find one and write it down. I also find another helpline number listed, which I write out for Tom.)
Me: There you are.
Him: Ok. Thanks. (Spends several long minutes putting on his coat and hat and gloves while I, and the other customers, look on in utter disbelief. He leaves and my brain explodes all over the dole office, leaving chunks of fudgey grey matter on every surface.)