Claimants are waiting over half an hour, on average, for PIP and DLA helpline calls to be answered, DWP minister Tom Pursglove admitted in a written parliamentary answer last week. But the minister now needs to come clean about how many callers never get an answer at all, because they are deliberately disconnected using a practice the department refers to as ‘call-blocking’.
Labour MP Beth Winter asked about waiting times for calls last month.
The response from the minister for disabled people was that the average waiting times for the PIP, DLA and AA telephone enquiry lines for the month of March 2023 were:
PIP - 37 minutes
DLA - 33.5 minutes
DLA65+ - 6 minutes
AA – 2 minutes
Clearly average waiting times of over half an hour for PIP and DLA are absolutely unacceptable, although many people who contact us have waited much longer without getting an answer at all.
But Pursglove’s response hides much more than it reveals. Because we also need to know about the number and proportion of calls that don’t get answered.
This would include claimants who hang up after waiting often for an hour or more.
And, crucially, it would include callers who are being deliberately and repeatedly cut-off by the DWP.
Back in March of this year a parliamentary question was asked about waiting times for the DWP Future Pension Centre. Call volumes had increased ten-fold as people tried to check their national insurance contribution record before a deadline.
The answer revealed that in March 443,000 calls out of a total of 517,00 had been blocked by the DWP - almost nine in ten callers. The practice is known by the DWP as ‘call-blocking’ and means that the DWP does not allow the call to enter the call waiting queue because there are too many people in it already. Instead, the line simply gets cut-off.
This sounds very similar to what has been happening to many callers to the PIP helpline, who report being repeatedly cut-off:
“Received PiP review form but my partner who it relates to is unwell in bed for last 3 days. Time scale for return quite short. Rang to get extension today. Keep getting cut off. Must have tried 10 times.”
“Been trying for Weeks to get through to change bank account details and it cuts off as soon as you go through all the automated talk. Three weeks ago got through the talk on the 'make a new claim' section only to hold for an hour and a half. I gave up without speaking to someone.”
“Ridiculous wait times, been trying to phone for 4 days now and each time it either cuts me off during asking for my details, or there is an hour 30 wait time and it cuts off. Only need to ask for an extension to my date as the forms only just arrived giving me 7 working days to reply back. I can't even get an appointment with CAB in the next 2 weeks, let alone my doctors to request supporting documentation and they give 7 working days?”
In his written answer, the minister’s explanation for the long waiting times was:
“We are currently experiencing higher than forecast call volumes to the PIP and DLA telephony enquiry lines. We have recruited additional staff onto our telephony teams and have on-going recruitment to further increase resources.”
But, without knowing how many staff are being recruited and how many staff are already in post it is impossible to tell whether the extra staff are likely to make any real difference.
So, it’s good news that MPs have begun raising the issue of DWP call handling with ministers, but there are a lot more questions that need to be asked.
Benefits and Work members might want to consider asking their MP if they would be willing to ask one of them.