DWP plans to improve telephone services with AI ‘virtual agents’ will take years to put into place, a government minister admitted last week.
Mims Davies, the parliamentary under secretary of state for the DWP, was asked by Labour MP Dr Rupa Huq what steps were being taken to increase the efficiency and accessibility of DWP telephone services.
Davies responded that the DWP had set up the Modernising and Transforming Telephony Project to look at technology which will help it meet demand.
The first planned improvement will be the introduction of ‘DWP’s Virtual Agent’ which Davies claims will “support customers through their telephony journey and best determine how to respond or help with their enquiry.”
Virtual agents are claimed to be a step up from chatbots. Using artificial intelligence and natural language processing, they are supposed to be much better at understanding what a caller wants and responding appropriately.
However, the DWP’s project will take years and no timescale has been given for when it will be rolled out to PIP and ESA claimants.
All that Davies would say is that “Starting with Universal Credit, we then plan to introduce this technology further over the next 3 years.”
It is hard to imagine that a technical fix like this, without employing many more staff, will improve the current dire waiting times for callers to DWP telephone helplines. The fact that it will take so long to introduce means it is no solution at all to the immediate problem that claimants face with issues like getting PIP deadlines extended.