7 November 2006
An unemployed workers centre has shamed the DWP into ending the practice of making money out of claimants phone calls.
The government has announced that in future freephone numbers will be made available to all working age claimants.
Freedom of information requests by Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centre revealed that the DWP is making hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in telecoms kickbacks by forcing sick and disabled claimants to use 0845 numbers to make claims for benefits. ( See: DWP phone scam - they profit from disabled calls 25.09.06 ). An effective press campaign by the Centre forced DWP minister Jim Murphy to announce that in the next few months 0800 numbers will be made available to all claimants:
"Many of our customers are among the poorest in society and we can do more to support them. We have to make sure that those who need help can make a claim quickly and easily and without being hit in the pocket. We have been piloting the 0800 number along with a range of other measures and I'm pleased that they have improved the service for our customers - now we're beginning to roll them out across the country."
Bob Pemberton of the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers' Centres welcomed the move:
"We congratulate the Government at long last for making this change. Fleecing the poor to subsidise the activities of the DWP was a very sick policy. We are convinced that the media attention given to our Freedom of Information enquiry has helped speed up the process of reform."
Not over yet
However, DUWC says the fight is not over. They remain angry at the cost cutting policy of unlawfully trying to force claimants to make all claims over the telephone, when for some a paper claim pack would be much more appropriate:
"We understand the DWP says it will reinvest its ill-gotten gains into customer services. It would help if they started listening to the views of those trying to access their services. Telephone is the only means of accessing benefits and this is totally inappropriate for many claiming their entitlements."
A recent report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee supports DUWC's stance. The 64 page report: Delivering effective services through contact centres points out that:
" While contact centres have been introduced in the interests of efficiency, the local office network has been reorganised, resulting in closures. The telephone is not a convenient means of contact for everyone, and should not be the only option available to the Department's customers. Pensioners can arrange a face-to-face meeting in their own home from the local service, but this option is not available for customers with a disability."
The report also revealed that 46% of all calls to DWP contact centres go unanswered, a total of more than 21 million telephone calls, leading to misery for claimants desperately attempting to make a claim for benefits.
Child Poverty Action Group have also produced a report criticising the increased reliance on call centres: Jobcentre Plus: changes to service delivery
One of the key findings of the 41 page report is that:
"The reliance on a system of distance claiming by phone does not make adequate provision for those with special needs: those with language difficulties either because of illiteracy or because they have limited or no knowledge of English; and those with physical and mental health disabilities that make communicating by phone difficult."
The evidence that the introduction of DWP call centres is being driven solely by the desire to cut costs rather than to support sick and disabled people is now overwhelming. It can only be a matter of time before claimants turn to legal action, perhaps under the Disability Discrimination Act, to restore their right to make claims on paper, if that is the manner that best meets their needs.