The postcode lottery

From one type of lottery to another – no this has nothing to do with the level of childcare nor hospital facilities (thankfully) but er… postcodes.

While I accept that being abroad, and expecting to be able to carry on as if I still lived in the UK is somewhat of a high expectation, but that’s what the EU is supposed to be all about. You should be able to live where you want, buy and sell where you want – without much ado (provided of course you pay your taxes)*; and you would think that with the dawn of the ‘virtual’ commerce and ‘e-business’ it would be possible to do this, and pretty much anything else, from anywhere, provided you have a computer and internet access to hand?

Happily this is true most of the time, indeed if it weren’t I would not be in France working for a British firm. However some things are still as painful as queuing at a UK post office on the first Monday of the month (behind all those pensioners).

One righteously ridiculous situation has been thrust upon me by Barclays Bank. Due to lack of traffic, they have hereby ceased all cash transactions at their branch in Strasbourg, except from the cashpoint. Which means I can no longer transfer money from the UK to my French account by card nor by cash. Which means even if I waltzed in with half a million in cold hard currency – they’d have to turn me away. Their reason being – it would encompass too much paperwork.

Their answer is for me to open a Barclays account in the UK and make free international transfers from bank to bank – nice idea if Barclays UK would actually let me open a bank account, but they can only open accounts against a UK address. The other alternative would be to get my UK bank, Lloyds-TSB, to facilitate online IBAN transfers – but nope – they only offer that service to their ‘off-shore’ customers with accounts in Jersey, who pay through the nose for a no questions asked service. The helpful girl at Lloyds-TSB phone-banking suggested the best alternative would be to just ‘walk into my local branch’. Clueless!

So good old fashioned cheques it has to be. The information age? Please!

The second, and equally ridiculous situation is that of online forms that assume a ‘country’ field is not necessary, as all of the people filling out the form couldn’t possibly be living anywhere but in the UK – could they?

One high profile guilty party on this front is – er – the British Government’s inland revenue service! Anyone who owns UK property, but lives abroad now, is practically barred from using the online self-assessment service because foreign postcodes are ‘not recognised’ – and without one the system won’t let you submit your return! Marvellous.

While I might be a keen advocate of the virtual office and e-business, unfortunately sometimes it is still all about location, location, location.

*unless you happen to be Tesco, Barclays etc..


  1. The one that gets me is forms that won’t accept my phone number (claiming that +1 is “illegal”) or people that ask for my full postcode and appear unsatisfied with a sequence of 5 integers. Although I guess that at least where you are people speak the language.

  2. Update on the Inland Revenue – they have contacted me with a work-around. I fill out a pre-defined bogus postcode in the required field.

  3. We used Barclays when we first came to Strasbourg, and now use HSBC – they seem to be as good if not better.

  4. Well the latest on this is that as of this year there is no longer even a work around. I have just been told by HMRC that I will have to download a paper copy of the forms and fill them out by hand.

    The information age? Don’t make me laugh!

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