Regular readers will know about my recent court visit. I was grumpy about the lack of connected digital services within the court.
As I left court, I asked if there was anything they needed me to fill in or sign. They said there wasn't. I just sort of assumed that I wouldn't get any expenses back - my travel was mostly within my regular season ticket anyway.
Then this dropped on my doorstep.
A hand written envelope. Let's ignore the fact they've misspelled my name (I won't ignore this). Does this mean that every witness in the country requires someone to handwrite an envelope and stuff something in?
That's ridiculously inefficient and error prone.
Let's take a look at the contents.
Again! Handwritten. Print on demand is a thing, you know!
I also need to figure out if I'm a "Ordinary" or "Professional" witness - because someone at the CPS has forgotten to tick the box.
Now, that wouldn't be so bad - send them my bank details and let them work out how much I'm owed. But it isn't that easy.
That was just the start - here is the rest of the form:
Three more pages! Some of which simply aren't relevant to me as an "Ordinary" witness.
Why do I need to fill this out? The court knows how long I was there. They know what sort of witness I was. If I lie, they'll cross-check - so why not pre-fill this as well?
Where's the online form? I've checked on the CPS website - and there isn't even a template so I can type it up and email it over.
This 4 page form is, apparently, so difficult to complete that it comes with another 4 pages of guidance. Pro-tip, if your guidance is as long as your form - rethink your form design.
The form and guidance also came with another guidance form. This 2-pager explaining how much I can claim.
So I have to read the guidance, fill in the form, then manually do maths to make sure it's worth my time claiming. And, I suppose, once the form is received, someone else needs to check all my details again to make sure I've not accidentally over-claimed or under-claimed.
Bad form design makes me grumpy. Non-digital forms make me grumpy. Handwriting makes me grumpy. Misspelling my name makes me grumpy.
Nothing about this experience is delightful.
Dealing with court stuff shouldn't be frivolous - but it doesn't need to be so enraging.
How I'd Improve It
- This could easily be done at court.
- Either get the witnesses to fill out a form while waiting, get a volunteer to help them, or hand them a pre-printed form on the way out.
- If it has to be posted, at least include a covering letter saying something like:
"thank you for attending court. The justice system only works because people like you are prepared to take time out of their busy lives to act as witnesses. We realise that you may have spent money travelling to court - so we want to pay you back."
- Make a separate form for Ordinary and Professional witnesses.
- Test the form with users to make sure it's as easy to complete as possible.
- Incorporate the guidance into the form, rather than having it as a separate sheet.
- Don't handwrite envelopes - or manually stuff them.
- Put the form online.
I don't think any of these are radical solutions. They could all be easily trialled to see which were effective.
Do the hard work to make things easy
I work for a different part of the Civil Service. I'm incredibly grateful that they let me attend court as a witness without it impacting my pay. My true expenses were £3 for a tube journey I otherwise wouldn't have taken. I could also claim £2.25 in subsistence allowance.
Is it worth me bothering with this form to claim a fiver?