The shocking level of service at DWP call centres will lead to life-threatening destitution for some claimants when the forced migration from legacy benefits to universal credit (UC) begins in earnest, the experience of Benefits and Work readers shows.
In particular, claimants who need an extension of time for their UC claim will face losing all their legacy benefits if they are unable to get through to the DWP on the phone.
In the spring, Benefits and Work published two pages asking readers for their experiences of calling the DWP.
The first is entitled ‘Which DWP number are you struggling to get through on?’ and asks for readers experiences of trying to get through to a range of DWP numbers, including the UC helpline, the PIP enquiry line and the Jobcentre Plus for ESA change of circumstances line.
The second article followed on from this and asked specifically for readers experiences of calling the ‘0800 121 4433 PIP Enquiry Line’.
What we’ve learnt from the hundreds of responses that continue to come in is that callers can be left waiting literally hours without being answered, not just once, but day after day. They can be repeatedly cut-off after they have answered AI bot security questions. Sometimes callers get through and can briefly hear human voices in the background before being cut-off. And sometimes they have actually begun speaking to a human being before being cut-off.
Under any circumstances, and for any benefits issue, this would be distressing.
But in relation to a forced moved to UC, this could lead to sudden and disastrous poverty.
The DWP have published a web page specifically for claimants who have been contacted and told they must move from legacy benefits to UC. On it, claimants are warned:
To continue receiving financial support you must claim Universal Credit by the deadline date given in your letter. This is 3 months from the date the letter was sent out.
This gives you time to gather any information and evidence, such as identity documents that you need to make your claim.
It may take time to gather all your documents and evidence to make your claim online, so you need to act as soon as possible.
If you cannot claim Universal Credit by the deadline date given on your letter, you should contact the Universal Credit Migration Notice helpline as soon as possible.
We can only give you more time to make a claim if you have a good reason. You must request this before the deadline date on your letter.
And there’s the issue. If the DWP stick to their current timetable, they will attempt to move 2.5 million claimants from legacy benefits onto UC in the space of a single year.
Many of those claimants are likely to have problems meeting all the DWP’s requirements.
Some will struggle with paperwork because of mental health issues or learning difficulties. Some will find it hard to engage with the process because of anxiety. Some will be too physically unwell to respond. Some will have their health conditions made significantly worse by the process itself.
As a result, many thousands of claimants will need to ask for an extension by phoning the helpline.
But with the dreadful level of service that the DWP provide, and with desperate and confused claimants calling multiple times every day about problems with migration, it’s virtually unavoidable that the phone lines will be overwhelmed.
People who are unable to get through to ask for an extension are likely to see their benefits stopped altogether. It’s a situation that scarcely bears thinking about, but unless something is done it is one which will happen repeatedly.
We are urging readers to contact their MP, talk to disability charities that they have connections with and begin to raise awareness of this issue, before it’s too late.
With 2.5 million claimants being migrated to UC in a year, we need to know how many calls the DWP expect to have to deal with. How many new call centres will they open to cope with the vast number of enquiries they are likely to receive? How many extra staff will they employ? What training will they receive? What targets will they have for how long callers are left on hold? How long they will spend on average talking to each caller? Will they make calls out to claimants who fail to meet the deadline to find out why?
The Scottish government are managing to move all their PIP claimants over to adult disability payment without threatening any of them with having their money stopped.
The DWP could do the same for legacy benefit claimants – they are simply choosing not to.
And, in case you imagine we are exaggerating the difficulties people encounter trying to talk to the DWP on the phone, we’ve published some readers experiences below.
Members can download a copy of our 21 page guide to moving from ESA to UC from the ESA guides page.
To keep updated on the forced migration process, sign-up for our free 'My UC Alerts' and you'll receive emails when there's important developments.
“Have been calling all week various times and after over and hour some days hour half given up but my deadline day is today really is terrible situation.”
“Horrendous I need to get through to ask for extension I've rang 2 weeks approx 5 times a day minimum 30 minutes each time my deadline 15th Sept. Is there another number? I'm so worried & making my mental health issue even worse.”
“I have been cut off 4 times after being put on hold for about 25 mins each time trying to ask for an extension to my pip review for as I can’t get an appointment with the cab to help me fill it in until after the deadline”
“my benefit (JSA) did not come and should have been paid on Friday (6 days ago) I have called the 0800 169 0310 number over 6 times and have spent just under 5 hours in the Que and it cuts me off after 70 minutes. I have visited two job centers and each one took down my details and promised a call to me would be made. I never received any calls. I ran out of food yesterday.”
“I am a pensioner and also receive pension credit. I have just moved house and all I want to do is inform them of my new address, which I understand I am obliged to do. I have tried to do this online but can't do this because I do not have a passport number. Been on hold 3 times today and waited over 30 mins each time. What am I supposed to do????”
“The ESA is a complete joke, unable to get through on the phone after receiving a letter from them saying that if I don't contact them 4 days BEFORE the letter was sent my benefit would stop because my 6 month sick note, that actually expires on 17/01/2023, expires on 17/09/2022.”
“Got cut off 3 times today after waiting over 30mins. Disgusted by this, got a letter on Saturday saying they have not received my husband PIP review letter but got a text saying they did. My husband has been worried sick & ill since receiving the letter but no one answers to help.”
“I tried the week before on a Thursday and went thru the push button procedure 1 to speak English, 2 to speak to someone then had to listen to another pre recorded voice and make another selection to choose 6 and then and then press 1 to speak to agent and then got disconnected, this happened the four times I tried and twice again on the Friday, anyway on the following Tuesday 4/09/2022 I successfully got through all the connections and was in the last please hold for an advisor for 1 hour and to be honest I have epilepsy and it was started to make me feel ill so I gave up”
“I have rung 4 times selected option 6 and been cut off. No explanation. This is really poor service. What is happening?”
“On hold for 55 mins to 0800 917 9149. Eventually phoned was answered, could hear the office and people talking in background. I said hello a number of times, no answer but could still hear office and people talking to each other and on the phones. No attempt made by person on other end to speak. Cut off with no warning. I am absolutely fuming. I need to change an appointment. This is Thursday afternoon, the appointment is on Tuesday at noon. I have a job that is far too short notice to for my employer to get cover. Dont know how to rearrange appointment”
“So far i have been on hold for over an hour, someone did answer then just put me back in the queue. Angry is an understatement.”
“called several times in several days to report change in circumstances (cancer) and waited 55 minutes and disconnected, called back waited 37 minutes and disconnected, waited 48 minutes and disconnected... this is only today... They contribute to me feeling angry and slowing my recovery with such attitude”
“Phoned on 8th April about 10am, on hold 59 minutes, then spoke to a real person. Was reporting deteriorating health, which he said triggered a review. This in itself is really stressful as it had taken repeated tribunals to be granted PIP ( despite previously being awarded DLA "for life".) Tried to get someone to help with form and they said to ask for extension until someone was available. Phoned PIP again on 12th April about 4pm, waited 58 minutes until it was answered, was granted one week's extension and told to phone again if this wasn't enough....form completed and posted 14th April. Since then, had repeated letters saying they haven't received form, failing to acknowledge extension granted and threatening to stop PIP. I can't face phoning them back.”
“I've been trying to get through to the Job Centre for 2 days now - 18 attempts so far, and every time I get hung up on before I can even attempt to get through the automated explanation at the beginning!! Yesterday I'd get into the queue, but get cut off randomly after 8 minutes or so... Today I can't even get through to the 'say your date of birth' bit etc! I'm trying to tell them they don't have to pay me money anymore! Surely they'd WANT to know that information!!!!!!”
“Got through after over an hours wait. Gave all security questions just stated with my query and got cut off. It’s so upsetting my anxiety is now up and am on hold yet again”
“I've tried for weeks, the line drops after about an hour, but the tell tale signs of call dropping are evident too as someone who's managed contact centres. There's the change from IVR music to Hold Music, there's the brief sound of an office background just before the line drops and there's often a short silence that highlights use of mute to quickly transfer the call back into the queue where you get the PIP 'questions' all over again. Much of these are signs of blatant call avoidance by the phone jockeys.”
“Been trying this number for months and never get an answer. I have been waiting on my review since August 2021. I got a text in March to say it would be soon. A text in May to say it would be soon. Since then I haven't been able to get a reply on the telephone. Constantly on hold for over an hour. Tried Monday to Friday and at different times of the day. I can't get my disabled rail card without my letter. I can't get a letter because I can't get through to them on the phone. I have tried to let them know about a change in circumstances since August 2021 and have yet to speak to anybody. It is really taking it's toll on my health as I am sure it is with anybody trying to contact them.”
“I have had terrible experiences trying to get through to PIP. I have called several times over the past 2 weeks at all different times, to sort out a problem with my claim and had to wait between 50 to 1hr 10 mins to get through each time. On one occasion I got through after 1 hour only for the person to cut me off when I complained that I had waited so long. I have tried 3 times today and wasted over 3 hours and have still not been able to get through. I am very stressed and fed up.”
“I’ve been trying to contact ESA on behalf of my son who has learning disabilities and it’s an absolute bloody nightmare !!! After going through all the options press one for this press 2 for that it then goes on to say in your own words tell me your reason for calling , I do that and they get it wrong so after repeating this step they eventually say try going online to do it NO THERE IS NO OPTION ONLINE if I’m lucky they say stay on the line to speak to an advisor but I’ve done this about four frigging times now and every one I’m waiting nearly an hour listening to the same bloody message and the same music over and over and over …… I’ve still not been able to speak to anyone because I don’t have half a day to sit around trying to get through , where the hell are all these advisers?”
“I called up the 0800 169 0310 change of circumstances line 12 times this morning from 8am until 9am, every time I finished the automated security questions it would ring off and cancel call. I have again called up the same number this afternoon at 13.50pm and got through all the security questions and have been on hold ever since. It's now 15.05pm and i'm still on hold!!!!!!”