The phone line to claim Iain Duncan Smith’s new benefits system will cost callers trying to get assistance as much as 45p a minute, it has been confirmed.
The Department for Work and Pensions said it would not set up an 0800 freephone landline for Universal Credit and said people should claim online.
The benefits helpline will be an 0345 number – meaning calls from mobiles will cost up to 45p and landlines 12p a minute.
The DWP had pledged to phase out full-rate numbers altogether after an outcry over a similar existing service in 2013.
Mr Duncan Smith’s department however has however decided to charge a full-rate rate for the new service rather than a freephone.
Rates per minute are particularly high for 'Pay as You Go' mobile phones used by people who cannot afford contracts.
A typical 40 minute call at 45p a minute costs £18 – about a third of the youth rate of Jobseekers’ Allowance supposed, which is supposed to last a whole week.
Junior DWP minister Justin Tomlinson said: “All benefit new claims lines have 0800 numbers and are therefore free whether claimants call from mobile phones or landlines – with the exception of Universal Credit, which has an 0345 number as the expectation is that claims are made online.”
Frank Field, the chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, criticised the move.
“There is something really disturbing about the idea of people on their uppers having to incur a hefty phone bill just to talk to somebody about their benefit claim,” he said.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
New benefit claims are lengthy calls that involve reading and spelling out significant amounts of information over the telephone.
Care must be taken that the information is correct because any errors can cause long delays in benefits claim processing and even led to a claim being denied.
The cash flow problems caused by the waiting period for benefit claims has previously been blamed for a large proportion of food bank use.
A DWP spokesperson said it would be possible to avoid the charges on the new line by arranging a call-back.
“People who are unable to claim online and need to use the telephone service can request a call back to avoid call charges,” the spokesperson said.
“Most vacancies are now advertised over the internet and claimants are encouraged to apply online to help them prepare for the world of work.”
The typical charges for 0345 numbers across networks can be found here.Reuse content