Red Tape

Tied up in Red Tape around a Death
Westminster Council House tied up in red tape Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Govt FollowLicence CC BY-ND 2.0

As some of you may remember my Mother died back at the end of March. She was nearly 100 so it was not really unexpected but when it did happen it was not helped by the Red Tape and stupidity you have to deal with. Now it is months later, in early June, and Red Tape is still holding up closure of the estate and it looks like it could be early August before things are finalised.

Mum had been pretty mobile for someone her age, she didn’t suffer from dementia, enjoyed reading and the TV and despite having a pacemaker kept generally well. We had adapted the house to make things easier for her. We had most of the things you can think of, lever taps, raised toilet seats, toilet hand rail, perching stool, bath bar, stair lift, walking frames, even a personal alarm. She had a carer come in every morning to help her get washed, dressed and downstairs to her riser recliner armchair. This is where I normally took over and sorted her breakfast.

One morning I was wakened by a big crash, rushed into her room and found her lying on the floor. She had decided that she would go to the toilet before the carer arrived and had fallen on the way back. Like lots of people she had put a hand out to save herself and to me it looked like she had broken her left wrist. I said I was going to call an ambulance but she didn’t want that. Many old people have a morbid fear of hospitals and she was no exception. However, just then the carer arrived and agreed that it was broken, so an ambulance was called and off she went to A&E. A quick X-Ray confirmed things and they decided to manipulate it and plaster it then and there. After which they decided to keep her in as she needed her hand to hold onto her walker and not being allowed to put any weight on the plaster rendered her Immobile.

She spent two nights in the local General Hospital but as the only thing wrong with her was the lack of mobility they made arrangements to transfer her to the local Rehabilitation Hospital to get her on her feet. This suited me as it was just up the road from me and far easier to get to and park at than the General Hospital. Her new room was lovely with views over the Gardens, en suite facilities and food freshly cooked on site for the 30 or so residents. Mum settled in to a daily routine of visits from the physio to get her to walk with a gutter frame, reading her Kindle and watching TV. After six weeks the wrist had healed well, the General Hospital removed the plaster and discharged her. She was delighted and looking forward to getting home, but the Rehab Hospital wanted to keep her for another couple of weeks to get her back onto a walking frame.

All this time I had been visiting Mum every day and she had appeared to be O.K., but they had been messing around with the pills she had been happily taking for the last ten years and had a few days when she had not been quite right. On the Friday two weeks after the plaster had been removed the Ward Sister caught me as I was leaving and said “I suppose you know your Mum is being discharged on Monday afternoon”. This was news to everyone one. It seems they had had a case meeting, to which I was supposed to be invited but hadn’t bother to tell me. If I had been there I would have been questioning why she was having those bad days and was she really fit to be discharged. Well mum came home on the Monday evening with a bag load of pills and her carer came in to help get her to bed. We sorted out her pills for the evening amongst which were the last couple of days of a course of antibiotics. No mention had been made of this and we had no idea what it was for. We both agreed that she was not right and if she was no better in the morning we would call her GP.

Well she had a bad night and the following morning (Tuesday) Mum insisted on getting up but was clearly, if anything, a little worse so we called her GP. He attended in the late afternoon and said to me that it looked like she should never have been discharged but he had not yet received any discharge paperwork. He said he would go and find out what he could and get back to me first thing in the morning. That evening the carer and I struggled to get Mum to bed and she had a truly awful night, getting me up at least a dozen times.

Wednesday morning she again insisted on coming down to her recliner, but it took the combined effort of the carer and myself an hour and a half to do so. It was obvious that she had deteriorated from the day before. As we got her settled the Doctor rang. The first thing he did was ask after Mum’s condition and immediately said don’t mess around dial 999 now and tell them I said she needs to be in A&E now. The Ambulance was outside the front door before I put the phone down on the 999 call handler. Mum was wizzed though A&E, taken for X-Rays, an MRI scan, blood test taken, put on a drip and given intravenous pain killers, before being taken to a ward. By now she was semi conscious. As soon as we got to the ward a hospital doctor pulled me to one side and told me that it was 50/50 she would survive the next 2 hours as her organs were failing due to Sepsis. How could the Rehabilitation Hospital have discharged her if it was plain something was wrong? I sat with her until about 10pm that night, when a staff nurse suggested to me that I should go home and get some sleep as Mum was stable.

I returned on Thursday and sat with her all day. The same hospital doctor came back to talk a bit more. She explained that it was only a matter of time, that they had pumped her full of strong antibiotics and they had not touched the infection, they had no idea of its source and that eventually her heart would fail. She was now fully unconscious and if she showed any sign of distress or discomfort she was being given Morphine. By 2am on Friday morning I was out on my feet, that same staff nurse came to me and said “go and get some sleep and I’ll phone you if anything changes”.

The phone woke me just after 07:30 with the request to get to the hospital ASAP. I rushed off just as quickly as I could through the heavy early morning Worthing traffic only to arrive at the beside minutes after she had died.

I now fell into the red tape run around. Because Mum had died on a Friday, the earliest I could collect her few possessions, get a Hospital Death Certificate and the form to release the body to the Undertakers, was Monday. I was instructed to ring them after noon that day to make an appointment to collect it. In West Sussex you can’t make a Registrars appointment to get a Death Certificate until you have a Hospital Death Certificate. In the mean time I made an appointment with Mum’s Solicitor who held her will. In a rare flash of foresight I decided to make the appointment for a week on Tuesday, just in case anything went wrong.

When I phoned the Hospital, just after noon on Monday, the certificate wasn’t ready and I was told to call the next day. The same thing happened on Tuesday, but just before noon on Wednesday they rang me to say the attending doctor had finally signed the certificate and I arranged to collect it at 3pm. Before going to get it I leapt on the Internet and managed to get a 4:30 pm appointment at the registrar. As some of you will know a Hospital Death Certificate is handed to you in a sealed envelope and has to be passed to the registrar in the same condition, so you don’t get a chance to properly examine it until then the registrar opens it.

When the registrar opened the envelope he suddenly said he couldn’t register the death as the Hospital Certificate was wrong. The doctor had listed 4 or 5 causes of death the last of which was “Sepsis of unknown origin”. The registrar said that was not allowed and all cases of Sepsis had to have an origin. He would have to refer the case to the coroner and would be in contact just as soon as the coroner was happy. I was crushed, already nearly a week had passed and I was getting nowhere, I could see a post-mortem and weeks of delay before I could organise a funeral.

Luckily a friend rang me that evening to check how I was and I related the tale to him. His daughter, my goddaughter, is a consultant in palliative care and my friend said he would ring her immediately as he was sure that she would have experience dealing with that sort of thing. Within a few minutes she rang me and said it was just the registrar being a jobs worth. She said the coroner has three other good reasons for death. Heart failure, multi-organ failure and chronic Kidney disease were all listed, so the forth item, Sepsis, was actually irrelevant and he would bounce it straight back to the registrar. Her advice was to call the registrars the next day as they would be in no hurry to call me. So I called the registrar mid morning Friday and yes they had received the coroners OK and could make me a new appointment. I got a cancellation and at 12:00 was sat with a different registrar. She proceeded to register the death and produce the number copies of the death certificate that I requested. However, she did warn me that she had to copy what the Hospital doctor had written, warts and all and this doctor could not spell and wrote appalling English. Consequently the death certificate says my mother died from multiorgan failure (Heart, Lungs, Kidnies) and Chronic Kidney Diseas. As a matter of interest she looked up Garyounis University where the certifying doctor had qualified and neither of us were surprised to learn that it was Benghazi, Libya. The Registrar also signed me up for the “Tell us Once” Service. This allows you to log on to a web site and simply tick off from a list those people who may need to know of the death. In one go you can tell people like, HRMC, the Local Council, DHS, DWP, Blue Badge issuer etc. It saves a lot of letter writing and sending of death certificates as the death details are all confirmed to them electronically. This one Government computer system that appears to work.

At last, after a week, I felt I had freed myself from the red tape, how wrong I was. I could now talk to the Funeral Directors and start organising the Funeral, so on the way home I stopped in at their office. I had chosen to use the same Funeral Director we employed when my Brother had died a few years ago. They had been extremely efficient, pleasant and not out to sell additional unnecessary services just to bump up the bill. We quickly established all the basics, Mum had specified that she wanted to be cremated and her ashes scattered. She also specified a non religious service using a Celebrant. The only problem was booking the Crematorium, Easter got in the way and the first available date was three weeks away. Of course if she had been Jewish or Muslim it would have been the following week! Back into the Red Tape.

Next stop was the Solicitor who held Mum’s will. I knew that I was named in the will as the sole executor and it wasn’t too complicated. Apart from a few legacies, she had left everything to me. However with her savings, shares holdings, a small annuity, and house I knew it exceeded the single persons Inheritance Tax (IHT) Limit. Better to let the Solicitor sort things out as she would need to be involve in the transfer of the house anyway. When I set up the Solicitors appointment we had a short chat and she suggested sending me a check list of items to bring to the meeting. This proved useful, as I was able to sort out all the paperwork required and the Solicitor confirmed we would need to apply for Probate.

The main problem we could foresee was, as I had guessed IHT. The current IHT threshold for a single person is £325,000 and anything over this is taxed at 40%. The house alone ate up this allowance so it looked like I was going to be stuck with a big tax bill. However the IHT allowance for a married couple doubles to £650,000 provided everything is passed from the first partner to die to the other. The same Solicitor had handled my Dad’s Will and she told me that under the circumstances we could apply to HMRC to use his unused IHT allowance thus, hopefully, avoiding paying Tax. She also informed me that getting Probate granted was currently taking around six weeks. A new computer system had been installed last January and was proving problematic. It was intended that Solicitors should be able to logon over the internet to apply for Probate for clients, but the system was bugged and paper applications still had to be made. They were then entered into the system at Brighton Court where they were getting further behind every week. Before the new system was introduced a Probate application was taking between 10 and 14 days. The Solicitor now set about creating an account of Mum’s estate so that she could make the Probate application and talk to HMRC.

I now started to deal with the other matters that Tell us Once don’t deal with and some that it did. What surprised me was how quick off the mark were those who wanted money. The Council wasted no time with Council Tax, TV Licensing chased (Mum had a Free Licence) and HRMC wrote to ask who they should deal with. I filled in the HMRC form to give them the Solicitors details and got on with other things. Some people were great to deal with for example Saga. Mum had a Personal alarm from them and one phone call got a prepaid package to send it back and instructions on dismantling it. The girl even asked if mum had any other of their services and I remembered she took their magazine. That was cancelled instantly. A week later, unexpectedly, refund checks arrived for both services. Others were less obliging. Just over 3 years ago Mum had a replacement Stannah stairlift installed at a cost of several thousand pounds. Because it was over 3 years old Stannah wanted to be paid to dismantle it and take it away. I found some companies who would take it away for free but only one who would buy it and then for only £100.
Oh, I got the same form from HMRC for the second time.

In the mean time we had the Funeral and it was a real celebration of Mum’s life, not a dreary old service. The Celebrant was wonderful, she had suggested a few readings and poems (not religious) and the music was mainly wartime tunes that Mum loved. Gracie Fields singing “Wish me luck as you wave me Goodbye” as the coffin disappeared brought a tear to many eyes.

It had now ticked on to early May and the Solicitor rang to say would I come in to sign a load of documents so that would allow the Probate application to be made. So a signed off the Probate application, several HMRC forms, share transfer forms and other things that I can’t remember. The wait for Probate had now slipped to 12 weeks so that means early August before anything is finalised. I got home from the Solicitor to find the same form from HMRC waiting for me. 3 times now, what is the matter with them.

The next bit of Red Tape was the company that Mum’s annuity was with writing to her asking her to confirm that she had changed her address! The Solicitor had written to them, including a Death Certificate, so they knew that she was dead. I rang them up and had a go at them telling them that her new address was the rose garden at the Crematorium where her ashes were scattered, their excuse was it was a security precaution forced on them by GDPR. When I pointed out the stupidity of writing to a person they knew was dead at what, for all they knew, was an empty house they accepted it and sent me a cheque for £25.

This week I got another letter from HMRC, I opened it expecting the same form for the 4th time. It was, however, a statement of her income tax position. It seems she had overpaid and a small repayment was due! I thought I better let the Solicitor know as the money should go into the estate. They had recently the same letter and agreed that it was part of the estate but suggested that if HMRC sent the cheque to me I should bank it and they would simply account for it. The cheque arrived yesterday and I paid it into the bank before they could change their mind.

So that is where I stand now, stuck waiting for Probate. I can do nothing and the Solicitor can do nothing. The Solicitor has even written to those people who are due a legacy for their details so that, as soon as Probate is granted, she can pay them. Roll on August and I can finally be free from Red Tape. Unless, of course, the Probate system collapses completely.

© WorthingGooner 2019

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