Callers to government departments paid £56m on higher-rate phone lines last year despite a drive to reduce their use, a report has revealed.
Figures released by the National Audit Office (NAO) show that £26m of this figure was spent waiting to speak to an adviser, with callers spending a total of 402 million minutes on hold.
The Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and HM Revenue and Customs have the highest proportion of higher-rate numbers.
The head of the NAO, Amyas Morse, called on government departments to protect vulnerable and low-income callers. “Callers do not receive a better service from higher-rate numbers and many callers are put off calling government phone numbers altogether,” he said. “The most vulnerable callers, such as low-income households, face some of the highest charges.”
The report pointed out that some departments have successfully switched from 0845 to 03 numbers, which are charged at a standard rate. The Department of Health has ruled out the use of any numbers costing more than the geographic rate.
A DWP spokesman said: “The DWP provides free telephone numbers for all of our claim lines, including the state pension and key benefits, which the NAO recognises is ‘a considerable saving to callers’. The DWP does not earn any revenue from 0845 numbers. All claimants who need to use an 0845 number can do so for free from their local Jobcentre or can request a callback from an adviser.”