PIP and ESA claimants are being put at risk of losing awards, being hit with overpayments and having their health conditions made worse due to what appears to be a disastrous roll-out of AI telephone systems at the DWP. Benefits and Work is asking readers to consider sharing their recent experiences of trying to call the DWP with the commons work and pensions committee in an effort to improve a worsening situation and end the DWP cover-up.
In February 2022 we passed on a DWP warning that “Customers should not be concerned if they hear a “human like” voice when they contact us.”
This was because the DWP were planning to introduce software called ‘Conversational Platform’ which would “transform the customer journey by providing an automated conversational experience”.
A little over a year later and it seems that the customer experience has indeed been transformed - to a hell of endless waits and disconnected calls, interspersed with pointless repetition of the same security questions posed by human-like voices.
Because of our concerns about whether the DWP would be honest about the efficiency of their software we set up a page last year for claimants to report their experience of calling the PIP helpline.
We had also previously posted a news story about problems with getting through to the DWP on the telephone which continues to attract comments.
In addition, we have a page encouraging claimants to contact their MP for help with getting through to the DWP.
But we now feel the situation is so serious that further action desperately needs to be taken to prevent claimants losing their benefits or facing large overpayments.
As one commentor on the Benefits and Work website put it:
“Please someone needs to do something this is so wrong on all levels why is this not being investigated or sorted been trying for a month to ring esa and pip on hold for 2 hours just to get cut off what is happening”
In the last few weeks in particular, the number of people who have told us they have been repeatedly disconnected seems to have increased considerably. Overall, we have heard from hundreds of people who are at a complete loss as to how to contact the DWP.
Some are afraid that they will face fraud allegations because they are unable to give details of a change of circumstances, others fear losing their benefits because they can’t get an extension of the deadline to return a form.
There are claimants who are trying to ask for a review of their award because their needs have increased.
We’ve also heard from claimants who are panicking because they can’t meet a deadline given in a DWP text ordering them to call the PIP helpline. And we’ve been contacted by people who say that the anxiety caused by their inability to get through to the DWP is making their health condition worse.
The commons work and pensions committee cannot force the DWP to improve their service, but they can oblige ministers and senior DWP officials to give evidence about what is happening. It is attention the DWP will not welcome and it may force them to make urgent efforts to improve their systems before they even speak to MPs.
If the DWP can’t immediately improve the telephone system then pressure needs to be put on them to adjust their procedures until they can. For example, as happened during the pandemic, the practice of ending claims if a form is returned late should be suspended. Late reporting of changes of circumstances should also be allowed without a claimant suffering as a result.
The committee may not be delighted if they receive hundreds of emails from claimants. But at the moment they are unlikely to be aware of the seriousness of this problem or the extent of the suffering it is causing.
The DWP will almost certainly, as always, be able to produce evidence showing that the overwhelming majority of claimants are very satisfied with the service they are receiving, but the testimony of hundreds of actual claimants will go a long way to proving that the reality is quite different.
Evidence from readers who provide advice to claimants and who struggle to get through to the DWP would also be extremely persuasive.
How to email the work and pensions committee
You can email the commons work and pensions committee at:
Please use ‘DWP telephones’ as the subject line of your email to make it easier for staff to sort them from other emails. Give details of your attempts to contact the DWP by telephone, explain what problems your difficulty getting through to the DWP has caused you and say what you would like the committee to do.
You can find out more about what the work and pensions committee does here.
Below are a selection of just some of the comments we have received in recent weeks about the DWP’s telephone service.
Comments from readers
Long waits and frequent disconnections
“5 hours today, calls terminated on 3 separate occasions! Appalling service. I have tried Mon, Tues, Wed and Thurs this week (3/4/23-). Different times each day and always the same result, Nothing!!. A total time wasted of nearly 8 hours.”
“totally impossible to speak to a human to request a review. on hold for 3 hours many times then phone beeps and cuts off. Awful”
“I cannot get through to them. Sent my review back at Christmas still not heard anything it’s now April! Can’t order my next car from motability until my claim is awarded. I’ve contacted them 9 times been on hold for over 5 hours during these 9 calls! I called today went through the automated service and then got the engaged tone and then cut off!”
“Calling PIP, been waiting 57minutes, call answered and then phone hung up on me, called Carers Allowance directly afterwards and they picked up within a minute.”
“Tried calling numerous times on 0800 121 4433 this morning and on every occasion I have navigated the automated messages and then been cut off every time (this is so frustrating)!!”
“the PIP line cuts you off after 4 minutes of going through all the 'options' to get your call directed. i have tried 15 times in the past week, i never even get to the 2 hour queue to be on hold. this is clearly deliberate.”
“Have called 15 times over the last two days and repeatedly cut off. Finally got hold of someone but she wouldn’t speak to me as I was calling on behalf of my son. She made me wake him to try to get through security but he couldn’t answer he questions as I deal with everything so she hung up. Absolutely fuming”
Unable to report changes
“I too have spent approximately 30 hours trying to get through. I've sent an email, I've contacted my mp...nothing !!! I want to report a change..but how can I !! I reckon by the time I get a response , the good change will be bad again !!!! It's ridiculous”
“Been trying to report a change in circumstances to ESA and have been on hold for over an hour. There really should be an online form to report changes as we are the ones who get penalised if we don’t report the changes. How can you report a change if you can’t get through to anyone.”
“Been trying DWP ESA helpline for weeks, still not got through to anyone to speak with. Also written to my local job center with no reply or response. Giving up on it. I just want to end my claim. Giving up, they can contact me if they want me, which I am sure they will when they realise they are overpaying me.”
“Now on my 8th attempt in 24hrs, 6 times was disconnected. I’m trying to do the right thing by telling them about changes to needs, I’ve had a heart attack and a stroke in the past 5 weeks and I can’t get any real life person to talk to me. I can’t believe how seriously bad this service is.”
“Been trying to call for a week to advise I'm starting work. Wait on hold for 45min - 3 hours and if anyone actually answers they hang up without speaking. Tried both the number ending 0190 and the one ending 0310, and tried both the option to change/cancel an appointment, and the one about JSA existing claim.”
“How the hell are people supposed to sort anything out or even inform dwp of any changes if they cant get hold of no one on the phone. To dwp. You probably wont even see this but what do you suggest people do? Even when right still get blanked. This is a terrible broken system where people cant speak to no one or get any help. Yet if not informed you threaten them with court action. Apart from jumping through burning hoops what do you suggest?”
“I tried 6 times between 2.45 until my last call listening to music just switched me off at 5.32. That was yesterday . This morning I tried after 10am that’s the time they recommended. I haven’t even been able to connect to the music as it just cuts me off every time ? Just want to report a change of address! How hard could it be?”
“I trying to let pip know that I'm going into hospital for open heart surgery.i have phoned for the last 3 day's with 1hr 30 min waiting time and got cut off every time! What can I do now ?!”
“What is going on?, The DWP are a public service with only 1 way to contact them!, but its near impossible to speak to them. They constantly threaten within any letter your recieve that if you fail to inform them of any changes to your circumstances you are liable for benefit sanctions/ removal of your benefit or ultimately end up in court.”
Fear of missing a deadline
“I've been trying to call PIP telephone number. I am very poorly and need a little more time to return my Review form. Letter says Ring Us if more time needed. JOKE? Every route I take through the automated answer machine eventually cuts me off. This is so distressing - they might stop my payments”
“I have been trying to get through for 3 days now I go through a couple of selections and then the phone gives the engaged signal and hangs up. I'm applying for a PIP for my son and the documents took so long to arrive it's left me with nowhere near enough time to complete them.”
“I have tried contacting them 5 times, each time being cut off at different stages. I need to ask for a PIP claim extension as I have passed the date the form was due back. I suffer with severe anxiety and have been avoiding this for over a week. Still no way of asking for a PIP claim extension form and no way of emailing them?”
“Unbelievable the DWP call to tell us to call the ESA line to request a work capability reassessment. nearly 2 weeks later and still havent managed to get through to 08001690310 number. is there an email address we can write to”
“This is so stressful, I'm on PIP due to mental health and am struggling with paper work due to a review. I got advised by CAB and other advice lines help to contact PIP enquiry line to ask for an extension as I get help but been unable get through. Been trying for over a week and same as eveyone else, some times cut off early other times jump through hoops entering personal info asked for to suffer same result of being disconected as line engaged or a message all agents are busy helping others. How can a helpline for vulnerable people and a line you have to legally report info to be so inadequately staffed.”
Urgent problems with claim
“My mum's benefit payments have stopped without warning and this is her sole source of income. Tried calling PIP 10+ times now and as soon as the automated voice says to wait for an adviser the call abruptly cuts off. Naturally with upcoming bills and the cost of living crisis this is an urgent matter and it seems there's nothing we can do and no one to speak with”
“trying to contact PIP office regarding reassessment which they regard as urgent and must be dealt with within 2 weeks otherwise PIP will be withdrawn. That was September 22, they delayed it 2 weeks and have never been back. have tried to get through many occasions since to follow up including 4 times so far this week but can never get through and the calls cut off after waiting over 30 mins each time. Appalling stress on people.”
“4 days I’ve been trying to speak to somebody about my esa my claims been closed an can’t get in touch with anybody to find out why”
“Been on hold for over 2 hours, waiting for someone to speak to about ESA, which they sent a message to call.”
“I have been trying to get through to esa for days just being on hold for hours at a time! Obviously not the weekend. They sent me letters saying my fit for work note ran out after 5 days, it say indefinitely on it!”
“Need to make a new claim but not sure which benefit is correct so tried ringing for advice. 13.5 hours on hold over 10 days! Trying to get through options to speak to someone is impossible just refers you to website. Tried local job centre….3 hours on hold in 2 days! Disgraceful service and shows the lack of consideration to people.”
“I have been left a voicemail asking me to contact 08001214433 to answer query re my PIP award. I have tried this number and many others in the Hope I would get to speak to someone. Not a Hope, been phoning for 2 days now, being disconnected or waiting for up to an hour. I honestly have phoned about 20 + times and still haven’t been able to speak to anyone! What am I meant to do? Really annoyed and frustrated.”
Call problems affecting health
“Same for three weeks now to tell them I've moved , they will soon stop my support for not notifying them and the whole thing is making my health issues worse with stress , what am I supposed to do ?”
“Record 3 hours 40 mins on hold. To get told I will be sent a form in post. I have a brain injury . I held onto that phone waiting because I could not focus on anything else due to executive dysfunction. I recorded the call for memory impairment. So not all in my head. I was left feeling disregulated . So upset. Surely this cannot be good for your mental health?”
“It is definitely actively contributing to my poor mental health, being mentally ill in this country is so hard.”
“It is ridiculous to not properly have a system that works especially for disabled people - my disability is mental and I suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, depression et all and I have struggled for over a week calling this line 0800 121 4433 (PIP Helpline) over 25 times and every time not been able to speak to a human either being disconnected within 5 mins after going through automated menus or worse sometimes after being on hold 45mins and then kicked off as lines close or a message says unavailable at this time please try another time. I have tried first thing in morning - mid-day, afternoon all to no avail and now I am way past my deadline for returning forms and worried my benefits will be shut off - Citizens Advice Bureau advised me to call and ask for an extension over a week ago but I just can't get through to an actual person. I had a panic attack yesterday over the stress and thought of losing my award which has been brought on by my experiences of being unable to make contact with the PIP Helpline.”
“waited 52 mins to be answered by esa to get a payment stopped because my debt to housing office was paid off 3 years ago and i got cut off/hung up on its happened several times i also have a tracheostomy tube in my throat and that automated service cant understand me ive rnded up in tears and so bloody fraustrated its unreal the way they treat people it should not be allowed to do this to people”
“I have tried several times on different days and times but still waiting for nearly an hour on occasions when not cut off and then having to go through at least 7 minutes of questions to try and reconnect. I usually get tired after 15 minutes and it wears me out as my multiple conditions/disabilities have got worse. How are you supposed to contact them when they are uncontactable? Forget letters as they also tend to lose that information and it is costly sending recorded delivery.”
“the PIP line cut me off after 5 minutes of going through all the 'options' to get my call directed to correct department. I've tried 5 times today & 5 times yesterday & kept getting cut off whilst on hold! As others have stated, this is 'clearly deliberate'. For the record i have diagnosed Paranoid Scizophrenia & have asked my parents to also call Pip on my behalf & they also are getting cut off while on hold - very upsetting & disgraceful service for vulnerable adults.”
“I spent the entire morning on hold yesterday when all I wanted to do was inform ESA I've changed my address. I was in the call queue for 1hr 15 mins until they so very kindly cut me off... the next couple of times I tried calling I couldn't even connect. At this very moment I've been waiting 44 minutes in a call queue and I'm not impressed. I'm a disabled person who also suffers with mental health issues and this additional stress is just not on.”
Advisers struggle too
“Rang as a Charity-based Adviser on Friday 21/4/23 with my client on a 3 way call. He had tried the previous day and had no reply after an hour. Phoned at 15:00 hours but had to give up by 16:30 due to other commitments. Only got as far as being told all agents are busy. Client only received paper form for completion on 20/4/23 despite our request for it during phone start of claim on 3/4/23 but they expect it back by 3/5/23 which will not be possible. That will be another battle I’m sure. Online form is not an option for our client or us on this occasion. Completely fed up with the waste of time for everyone trying to get through and the stress it causes many already with health issues is unacceptable.”
“PIP -often you can't get through at all. you get cut off before you get to the hold music. Agree with others that it takes at least 45 mins and often over an hour to get through - for me it's the same whenever I call. I work for Citizens Advice. I can only call when I know I have one hour + free which is very difficult to fit into a working day with appointments etc. It's impossible for our volunteers to help clients with a call to PIP as there is simply not enough time in the time allowed for their assessments or appointments”
“I work for Citizens Advice and need to ring PIP helpline quite frequently. The most terrible service I’ve ever used, constantly on hold for over an hour only to be disconnected or most of the time you’re disconnected immediately, I presume due to short staff or capacity of the line. I’ve been trying to call them for four days about my sibling I care for since our mother has passed due to terminal cancer and we’re going to go in arrears if they continue to hang up every time I call or disconnect whilst waiting, I have already wasted many hours in this process.”
Anonymous CA Adviser