In a Guardian report today, the government has admitted it is "inappropriate" that some of the UK's poorest and most vulnerable people have been forced to pay high call tariffs to access vital government services by phone.{jcomments on}

The admission comes on the eve of publication of a critical public accounts committee (PAC) report.

The National Audit Office found callers to higher rate lines paid £56 million in call charges in 2012-13.

Callers spent a total of 880 million minutes on calls, of which 402 million minutes were spent waiting to speak to an adviser at a cost of £26 million. The NAO estimates the value of callers’ waiting time to be £100 million.

The majority of the cost fell on people calling the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HM Revenue and Customs.

One of the recommendations is that telephone lines serving vulnerable and low-income groups should never be charged above the geographic rate.

PAC chair Margaret Hodge MP said: "Customers of government services should be able to contact those services easily and cheaply.

"We also welcome DWP's commitment to phase out the use of 0845 numbers for its customers. There should be low-cost alternatives for all services used by a lot of vulnerable people."

Read more from the Guardian and the full report on the NAO website


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