All DWP customer phone lines will be free to use by the end of the year, secretary of state for work and pensions David Gauke announced yesterday. However, there will be no pause in the rollout of universal credit (UC), in spite of the government losing a commons debate on the issue.
The introduction of free calls comes following the furore over the charge of up to 55p a minute for the universal credit helpline.
Gauke told the work and pensions committee that the universal credit helpline would be the first to change:
“Given the recent attention and concern that this could place a burden on claimants, I have decided that this will change to a freephone number over the next month.
“It has been DWP's longstanding position to operate local line charges for benefit inquiry lines, but having reviewed this matter more widely I will be extending freephone numbers to all DWP phone lines by the end of the year.”
Whilst the removal of costs will be welcome news to claimants, if call centre staff numbers are not increased, the end result could simply be to make it even harder to get through as more people attempt to use the service.
Meanwhile, in the Commons itself, the government lost a non-binding opposition day motion calling for the accelerated rollout of universal credit to be paused.
The motion was upheld by 299 votes to zero after Tory whips forced Conservative MPs to abstain rather than face possible defeat.
In the event only one Conservative MP, Sarah Woolaston, voted with Labour in favour of the motion.