The elderly and vulnerable are being charged tens of millions of pounds each year to ring premium rate Government helplines, it can be disclosed. MPs have called for the “​scandal”​ to end.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) uses 130 premium rate 0845 phone lines that charge taxpayers up to 40 pence a minute to ring from mobile phones, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Lines that charge these fees include those for the Pensions Service and Jobcentre Plus.

Just under 5 million people contacted the DWP’​s seven most commonly-used 0845 lines in an eight week period earlier this year, according to information obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. This means that around 32 million people ring these numbers over the course of a year.

With an average call time of eight minutes, taxpayers are paying up to £​100 million a year to use the services.

John Healey, the Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne, has called for a Commons debate on the premium lines, which he said are a “​rip-off”​ and a “​scandal”​.The MP said that elderly and vulnerable taxpayers are being charged for holding for up to seven minutes before their calls are even answered. FOI information from the DWP reveals that over a third of callers to certain services end up hanging up and are still charged, he said.

“​People are losing out every which way they turn. More and more people have got mobiles not landlines, more and more people get charged the rip-off rates, more and more people are having to wait for longer for getting hold of a service that they can’​t get any other way now.

“​A Government department should have no truck with this,”​ said Mr Healey.

The 0845 numbers cost up to 40 pence a minute from mobile phones and 8 pence a minute from landlines, with an initial 13 pence connection charge, a DWP spokesman said.
Full story in the Daily Telegraph


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