Calls to helplines for all department’s services will be toll-free by the end of 2017
Calls to the Universal Credit helpline cost up to 9p a minute from landlines and as much as 55p from mobiles
The government is to scrap the call charges of up to 55p a minute for using the Universal Credit helplines.
The Department for Work and Pensions today announced that, from next month, using phone lines to make or update a claim for Universal Credit will be free of charge. By the end of 2017 the department will also scrap charges for telephone support for all its other services.
The Universal Credit helpline, which is open from 8am to 6pm on weekdays, is an 0345 number, meaning it costs up to 9p a minute to call it from a landline, and between 3p and 55p a minute from mobiles.
The government has faced calls to scrap these charges, most notably from opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who raised the issue in last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions.
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Today, the DWP announced that the “Universal Credit customer telephone lines will be the first to become freephone in November”.
“The department will inform customers and partners of new freephone numbers in advance of these changes,” the department added. “Freephone numbers will be rolled out to all remaining DWP customer phone services by the end of the year. Further details will be released in due course.”
Some 99% of claims for Universal Credit are made online, the DWP said, and claimants can “engage with their work coach” using their online account, according to work and pensions secretary David Gauke. Users can also take advantage of the free computers and WiFi available at job centres, Gauke added.
He said: “Our work coaches support anyone who needs extra help with their online account, but we want to make the process as burden-free as possible, including for people who use our telephone service. That’s why we are making all our customer phone lines free to use.”
The government is now facing further calls to refund charges already made for calling the Universal Credit helpline, including from Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley.
He tweeted: “Should never have been a charge in the first place – refunding bills [is] a first step towards undoing [the] damage government has inflicted.”
Today the Commons plays host to a debate on whether the rollout of the Universal Credit programme should be paused to allow for remedial changes to be made. The scheme is ultimately intended to bring together and supplant six different benefits: Child Tax Credit; Housing Benefit; Income Support; income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; income-related Employment and Support Allowance; and Working Tax Credit.