Oh dear. I've failed a credit check. Embracing modernity in an alarming act of spontaneity, I was attempting to upgrade my mobile phone from prehistoric and expensive pay-as-you-go to uber-modern and ultra-cheap smartphone contract. But no. I am officially unworthy. Oh the look in the shop-assistant's eyes as he broke the news. All the superficial smiles and apologetic platitudes of the training manual couldn't mask it. 'You dirty hippy. Go back to your crack den you sponging loser.'
Now much as I hate to shatter the image of myself as a fast-living, devil-may-care, shoot-from-the-hip kind of guy, I've always been rather prudent with money. That's possibly because, like most of the musicians and artists I know, I don't have much, so bean-counting has always been just part of life, a valuable lesson learned during my dole-days (who says doleys are feckless?). But I also have my grandfather's stern admonition ringing in my ears: 'look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.' You can imagine, therefore, my reaction to the news. Indignation. Humiliation. Embarrassment. Rage.
Now, following a bit of digging it turns out that the reason I failed the check is almost certainly that my address can be given in different formats. There's no agreed convention for writing a house/flat combination. I gave it one way; my bank has it another. For some reason, the bank seems wholly uninterested in my flat number and, indeed, can find no way to type it into their database. Believe me, I've tried. So I've been shut out of a system, been denied my consumer choice (about which I care little) and the opportunity to halve my mobile phone bill (about which I care rather a lot) because a computer is unable to recognise that Flat X/House Y/Street Z is the same as House Y/Street Z. Genius. Actually the consequences are a little more serious than that: fail too many credit checks and you'll find you're denied a mortgage or a bank loan.
I'm reminded of Terry Gilliam's oh-so-prescient dystopia, Brazil. A fly jams a printer resulting in the mistaken arrest, torture and death-during-interrogation of one Mr Archibald Buttle. They meant, of course, to arrest Mr Archibald Tuttle. Tsk! Silly mistake.
My credit check was performed by a company called Equifax. As I understand it I probably do have a right of appeal, but finding out how I go about it, or indeed exactly why I failed the check, seems inordinately difficult to do: their website is labyrinth-like and has a nasty habit of returning you right back where you started. What's more, you have to pay for the privilege. It's a serious disincentive and one that's very bad for the blood-pressure.
In my grandfather's day credit checks were done by a bank manager. A person. Some who knew you. Someone with whom you had a relationship. Someone who could tell whether you were lying or not. Someone with whom you could remonstrate or plead.
Now we have franchised human relationships to a machine, to a brittle algorithm, such that there is very little comeback if the programme's logic gates find you unworthy: the fault must necessarily be yours. The inexorable logic of capitalism, the ceaseless need to cut costs, to minimise losses and to rationalise, drives these systems but they in turn have become a subtle yet powerful means of coercion and social control. I don't remember voting about this. It's just snuck up on us, like letting agents. How the hell did a private company acquire so much control over my life?
It's probably fine if you lead an ordinary existence with a predictable income, predictable outgoings, a mortgage and a suit. But what about people who live on narrowboats or trucks, on smallholdings or in off-grid ecobuilds and don't therefore have an address as such? What about those 'fools by heavenly compulsion' who are driven to try and live on the fringes so they have time and space to create? With no credit-footprint to speak of are they to become a caste of non-people? Perhaps it's already happened. Perhaps it's all part of a policy to turn us all into good little consumers, to Tuttle the Buttles.
Whatever, and forgive the pun, if anyone can tell me how to make a rebuttal, I'd love to know. As I understand it, one of the best ways to boost your credit rating is to get into debt (the very thing I have so assiduously avoided) and show that you can pay it off responsibly. The world's gone mad. I'm glad my grandfather isn't here to see it.