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Hunt for rip-off helpline HQ

16 September 2008
Following on from our warning about Benefits Helpline in the last newsletter, we have been attempting to find out a bit more about the company behind the telephone advice service.

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Call centre operativeYou may recall how Benefits Helpline is offering “expert” advice via a premium rate phone line – charges stand at £1.50 a minute. Yet calls we made with fairly straight-forward enquiries suggested the experts on the other end of the phone line know virtually nothing about benefits.

The organisation’s boast on its website that callers will “speak to a straightforward, articulate and friendly telephone support agent” was certainly not the experience we had.

We firmly believe this company is exploiting people who cannot afford to waste money for such bogus advice. There is also the wider issue of how companies like this are allowed to offer such a useless service, whilst collecting sensitive personal data about financial information from callers.

We have passed on our concerns and information gathered so far to both the trading standards department of the local authority where the company is based, as well as the local MP.

Both have agreed to carry out their own enquiries. A spokeswoman for the local authority said: “If the level of service being provided is below acceptable standards then we will be seeking more information from the company behind this helpline.”

It is clear that Benefits Helpline is not linked to any government or official body. Indeed, it seems most organisations and people we have contacted in the last fortnight as part of our enquiries into Benefits Helpline are keen to put some distance between themselves and the company.

After asking Ofcom to look into the helpline, we were told to contact Phone Pay Plus, as they look after premium rate lines. But Phone Pay Plus said they could not look into quality of advice, only issues such as whether callers were being kept on hold too long.

We were given contact details for the Benefits Helpline, which proved to be for a large, UK-based telecommunications provider that provides the system the advice line uses. It was unwilling to comment or even confirm the helpline used its services, claiming “commercial confidentiality” prevented it from answering our questions.

Further investigating unearthed possible links to other advice lines – Motoring Helpline and Auction Helpline - and a call centre and head office based in the West Midlands.

The head office for IHelpline proved to be nothing more than a registered postal address. The call centre was seemingly located in buildings at the end of private, gated road and attempts to gain entry proved futile. We did uncover the residential address of a company director, but that also drew a blank and messages left at the house remain unanswered.

Further email and phone enquiries made direct to Benefits Helpline have also failed to unravel the mystery of who is behind the so-called “expert advice” available at a premium rate.

Enquiries are still on-going through various sources. But, in the meantime, there are serious questions raised by the likes of Benefits Helpline offering worthless advice to vulnerable people.

Like last time, our advice remains simple and free – steer well clear of Benefits Helpline