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Vulnerable and low income claimants will continue to pay up to 45p a minute to make calls about their benefits, the DWP announced last week. The revelation was made in response to the Social Security Advisory Committee’s (SSAC) call for free 0800 numbers to be used by the DWP. The department also revealed that “cost incentives” are part of a deliberate ploy to try to force claimants to manage their claims them online.

Last July SSAC published the latest in a series of reports about DWP telephony. Amongst other things, it called on the DWP to “introduce 0800 numbers on those enquiry lines used by vulnerable or low income customers”.

SSAC noted that many low income claimants do not have a landline and that calls to 0345 numbers, such as the PIP enquiry line, cost from 3p to 45p a minute from mobile phones.

SSAC also highlighted the random way in which Freephone numbers seem to be allocated. To make a fresh claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) a claimant can call a free 0800 number. But “if your benefit payment is stopped, and you don’t have enough money to live on” you have to call an 0345 number.

In their response, published last week, the DWP declined to switch to 0800 numbers on the grounds that it would cost around £7 million to do so.

They also revealed that, in relation to universal credit, their policy is to “redirect people to digital channels through cost incentives”. In other words, they want claimants to manage their claim online and they will punish those who are unable to do so by making them pay for expensive phone lines.

The DWP, not surprisingly, refuse to publish figures on how long people are kept on hold when calling them.

However, they told the Public Accounts Committee several years ago that In the first quarter of 2013-14 they answered 54% of calls to 0845 numbers in 20 seconds and that the average waiting time on hold was 1 minute and 44 seconds.

The truth is rather different. Whilst the PIP enquiry line on 0345 850 3322 is answered immediately, the recorded message lasts for 1 minute and 12 seconds before you can even choose an option. How long you are kept on hold after that depends on the time of day and the volume of calls. We have certainly heard from members who have given up after spending 20 minutes on hold. If you are on the most expensive pay as you go mobile, that will be close to £10 spent to not even get an answer.

In answer to a parliamentary written question last week, Penny Mordaunt – a minister at the DWP – claimed that the average time taken to answer a call on the PIP enquiry line from May to October 2016 was 6 minutes and 25 seconds.

We’d be very interested to hear from you about your experience of trying to get through to the DWP.

You can download the SSAC report here.

You can download the government’s response here


#11 Ian014 2016-12-02 16:41
Quoting Bill24chev:
I submitted a FOI request to DWP asking how much the DWP and their outside agencies received from the use of 0845 numbers.

DWP replied, in very short time for an FOI, stating they do not get any benefit from this. But did not say if the outside agencies gain from use of 0845 numbers.

So if No organisation gets any benefit from use of these numbers they must be in place to discourage communications with DWP and through outside agencies.

However the cynic in me thinks the Private firms acting for DWP are making money out of the system.

Until 30 June 2015, the benefit received by the owner of an 0845 number was around 2p per minute including VAT, making a revenue share payout of around 0.3p per minute possible. DWP declined to take that payment as "cash" and instead opted for it to pay for other services provided by their telecoms provider.

Since 1 July 2015, the benefit is clear to see. It is the declared Service Charge element of the call cost, less any call-forwarding costs (usually a small fraction of a penny per minute).

However, all of that is now irrelevant.

DWP changed their 0845 lines over to inclusive 0345 numbers on 17 March 2014. Calls to 03 numbers are inclusive in allowances on landlines and mobiles else charged at geographic rate - the same as calling family and friends on 01 and 02 numbers. The call charges for calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers are set entirely by the caller's landline or mobile provider and revenue sharing is not permitted.
#10 Bill24chev 2016-12-01 13:34
I submitted a FOI request to DWP asking how much the DWP and their outside agencies received from the use of 0845 numbers.

DWP replied ,in very short time for an FOI, stating they do not get any benefit from this. But did not say if the outside agencies gain from use of 0845 numbers.

So if No organisation gets any benefit from use of these numbers they must be in place to discourage communications with DWP and through outside agencies.

However the cynic in me thinks the Private firms acting for DWP are making money out of the system.
#9 Ian014 2016-11-26 11:49
Quoting susie:
... put on hold 20mins then cut off, 2nd attempt on hold 16 mins for 90 sec conversation. Cost to me (I have to pay for calls) £5.40. ...

If you had been on Three network (3p per minute) the cost would have been around £1.11 or so.

On any provider (EE, O2, Three, Vodafone, Virgin, ASDA, Tesco, etc) a £5 pay-as-you-go bundle would have given you hundreds of minutes and texts and you would have used only a small proportion of them leaving the remainder for all of your other calls that month.
#8 Ian014 2016-11-26 11:44
Part 4

Changing all DWP phone lines over to 0800 numbers would result in DWP having to pay out millions to phone companies while letting those phone companies continue to rip off their customers on all of their other calls.

Instead, more work needs to be done to get people away from paying extortionate per-minute rates for their ordinary calls and on to deals where a small monthly payment covers all of their calls and texts to 01, 02, 03, 071-075 and 077-079 numbers. Deals such as this have been available on pay-as-you-go for more than a decade but it seems that far too many people seem to be completely unaware of them.
#7 Ian014 2016-11-26 11:43
Part 3

A fifteen minute call at 50p per minute could cost £7.50, but equally a £5 top up can purchase a bundle giving as much as 300 minutes and 500 texts. It is the caller that makes the decision on which price plan they choose. Anyone paying 50p per minute for calls has clearly chosen the wrong one. Making calls to DWP free-to-caller would not solve the issue that these callers continue paying 50p per minute for all of their other calls. What is needed is more education to help people avoid expensive deals altogether.

Since 1 July 2015, calls to 0800 and 0808 numbers are free-to-caller from all landlines and from all mobile phones. DWP currently operates several 0800 numbers for new claims, one for each benefit – except for UC. For “new UC claims” there is NO phone number. You cannot claim UC by phone (with one exception). It is an online only process. For a large number of people, this must be a huge barrier to making a claim. The one exception is that new UC claims in the Welsh language are made on an 0800 number as there is no Welsh language website for claiming UC.

Helplines for existing claimants of all benefits (including UC) use 0345 numbers. As mentioned, these are “ordinary calls” the same as calling 01 and 02 numbers. Anyone paying £16 for one 30 minute call is clearly on the wrong deal. A £5 pay-as-you-go top-up for a 200 minute and 300 text bundle would have left that caller with 170 minutes and 300 texts spare for use throughout the rest of month (for calling family and friends, shops, banks, doctors, hospitals, etc) all the while costing £11 less than the single per-minute-rate d call.
#6 Ian014 2016-11-26 11:42
Part 2

Most people pay a fixed monthly fee for an allowance of inclusive calls to numbers starting 01, 02 and 03. In many cases this also covers numbers starting 071-075 and 077-079. This arrangement means that callers pay no charges for individual calls.

The article mentions that callers pay up to 45p per minute. It fails to mention that this applies only if the caller's inclusive allowance has run out, or the caller has chosen a call plan with no inclusive allowance.

The normal way to pay for telephone service is to purchase an inclusive allowance covering all of your calls to landline (01 and 02) numbers, non-geographic 03 numbers and mobile (071-075 and 077-079) numbers. This applies on landlines, on contract mobiles and on pay-as-you-go mobiles. Pay-you-go-bund les are offered by nearly every mobile provider, and widely used, but are almost always overlooked by those who write articles about the cost of calls.

Mobile providers offer a range of deals with various prices. A £5 top up gives hundreds of minutes of calls and hundreds of texts. A £10 top up gives many hundreds more. The other option is to pay around 50p per minute or 50p per text. This means a £5 top up gives just 10 minutes or 10 texts. Why would anyone choose to do that?

Anyone paying high rates to call DWP is paying the same to call family and friends on 01 and 02 numbers and retailers, banks and utilities, etc, on 03 numbers and is clearly on the wrong deal. The blame rests with phone companies in not explaining the options clearly enough for their customers to make the right decision.
#5 Ian014 2016-11-26 11:40
Part 1

DWP has used used freephone 0800 numbers for new claims since around 2010. As calls to 0800 and 0808 numbers were not free-to-caller from mobile phones at that time, DWP had to pay large sums of money to the six main mobile providers of the time to make these calls free-to-caller. Following Ofcom's reforms on 1 July 2015 all 0800 and 0808 numbers are always free-to-caller from landlines and mobile phones. The called party has to pay a Call Origination Fee of up to around 8p per minute to the caller's phone provider to compensate them for the fact that the caller pays nothing for the call.

For a very long time, helplines used for existing benefit claimants were premium rate 0845 numbers. These have an additional inbuilt "Service Charge" that provided the department with a subsidy of just under 2p per minute paid for by callers. This additional charge was rightly called the “telephone tax” by campaigners determined to end this abysmal practice. A Service Charge applies on all calls to 084, 087, 09 and 118 numbers. Since 1 July 2015 this must be separately declared alongside all such numbers.

Following a Public Accounts Committee hearing in September 2013, DWP agreed to change their premium rate 0845 numbers over to cheaper 0345 numbers. This was announced in January 2014 and actioned on 17 March 2014. Calls to 03 numbers count towards inclusive allowances on landlines and mobiles else are charged at “geographic rate”. These are ordinary calls. 03 numbers are charged at the same rate as whatever the caller already pays for calls to family and friends on 01 and 02 numbers. It is important to recognise that the call price for calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers is set entirely by the caller’s phone provider.
+1 #4 maggie21 2016-11-23 14:55
Every time I have to contact the DWP about something (ESA or PIP), I have to ring them because I have not found any way of sorting out issues online. Applying yes but not ongoing management.
And every time I ring, it is usual, not just occasional, but usual to be kept hanging on for at least 20 minutes after the lengthy introduction message. And that doesn't, in my experience seem to make any difference what time of day I ring. Except I am unable to ring before around ten in the morning as my medical conditions mean I don't cope well with mornings, so have no choice but to ring after mid morning.
+2 #3 Lyn Padley 2016-11-22 20:16
The young people I work with have to phone to claim as we are in a Universal Credit area but supported housing residents have to claim IS. The DWP website does not allow this once the postcode is input! 40 minutes on hold is not unusual, average is around 20 minutes. Thank goodness for the office landline as most of the residents have limited or no credit on their mobiles. Disgusting situation.
+1 #2 BEMM4 2016-11-22 19:48
It took 6 attempts to get through to PIP1 line- on hold for 20 mins then the line cuts out. Absolute refusal to deal with me by letter, despite my disability meaning I can't use the phone & need someone to do it for me. My GP spent precious time trying to contact DWP by phone: on hold for 40 mins before getting through on 3rd attempt.

ESA payments twice incorrectly suspended due to admin error/victimiza tion. On the last occasion my support worker tried twice to get through, put on hold 20mins then cut off, 2nd attempt on hold 16 mins for 90 sec conversation. Cost to me (I have to payfor calls) £5.40. They hadn't even bothered to write to inform me that they had suspended the payment. By the time my bank statement arrived it would have been too late to appeal.
+2 #1 ThisGovernmentsGoneToFar 2016-11-22 15:17
DWP cease to amaze me (filthy underhanded scum) :-?

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