25 September 2006
Shocked campaigners have discovered that the DWP is making hundreds of thousands of pounds in telecom kickbacks by forcing sick and disabled claimants to call 0845 numbers.
In just 12 months the DWP received £250,00 in payouts from phone companies. But this amount is set to rocket over the next two years as hundreds of local offices are closed and replaced by call centres.
Since early 2005 anyone claiming a range of benefits including incapacity benefit and carers allowance has been forced make their claim via an 0845 call centre number. In recent months many welfare rights workers have reported what appears to be an active and unlawful campaign by the DWP to prevent people using paper claim forms. (See: Call centre misery increases 19.09.06)
Their suspicions aroused, campaigners at the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centres' asked Natascha Engel MP to table a parliamentary question asking if the DWP were profiting from these calls. When this was stonewalled by the DWP the activists turned to the Freedom of Information Act. Their questions forced the DWP to admit that in the financial year ending in April 2006 the they made a total of £268,874.90 in 'refunds' from 0845 numbers.
'Bob Pemberton, assistant co-ordinator of the DUWCs told Benefits and Work:
'This is outrageous. A quarter of a million pounds is a drop in the ocean of the DWPs budget but the cost of the call, particularly for those without a land line, is important to claimants already suffering from being made unemployed, sick or with caring responsibilities.
'We hear a lot of sound bites about government helping the poor but at the same time, the DWP is ripping off those claiming benefits '.
Campaigners believe that the fact that the National Benefit Fraud Hotline is a freephone number, as is the Pension Credit Application Line, makes it very clear to sick and disabled claimants exactly where they fit in the DWP's list of priorities.
And worse is yet to come.
As Benefits and Work revealed in our Call Centre Misery article last week, several hundred local benefits offices are to be closed and replaced by call centres between now and April 2008. As a result the DWP can look forward to raking in millions of pounds of claimants cash every year.
And the longer they keep you hanging on the telephone, the more profits the DWP will make.