'Telephone tax': Government departments investigated over use of premium-rate phone lines

Department for Transport earned £2.5 million from calls in two years

A public spending watchdog is investigating claims that the use of premium-rate phone lines by government departments amounts to a “telephone tax”.

The National Audit Office expects to deliver its verdict in July, head Amyas Morse told campaigning MP John Healey.

The Labour former minister led calls for a probe after exposing the extent of the use of such numbers.

His research found the high-cost lines account for 61% of all telephone lines at 16 government departments and agencies.

Calls to 084- numbers cost up to 41p per minute and the Department for Transport earned £2.5 million from calls in two years.

The Home Office topped the list, with 96% of its lines being high cost: 22 out of 23 lines.

The Department for Work and Pensions was singled out for criticism given the number of low-income users likely to use its phone lines.

Services charging 0845 rates include sections dealing with disability living allowance, carers allowance, job centres and the social fund (can provide help for people on low incomes who are facing emergency expenses), as well as at the Pension Service, Insolvency Service, Rural Payments Agency and the Skills Funding Agency (houses the National Apprenticeship Service and is tasked with increasing apprenticeships).

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has since confirmed that new benefit helplines. for personal independence payment and universal credit, will also use 0845.

The HMRC also pocketed £4.7 million worth of free services offered by Cable & Wireless in exchange for 400 million minutes of calls to 0845 numbers.

Mr Morse, the Comptroller and Auditor General, told the MP it would consider the results of his research as part of its investigation.

"The study will report on the reasons why different numbers are used, the benefits and burdens, and plans for the future," he said.

"We will assess why higher-rate numbers are preferred to geographic-rate or freephone numbers, and the extent to which departments achieve their share of financial and other benefits from higher-rate lines."

Mr Healey said: "I am pleased the NAO (National Audit Office) is carrying out a thorough investigation and look forward to their findings.

"So far the Government have shown no understanding of how unfair this practice is or the problems they are creating for people on low incomes.

"People have no choice about making these calls to get information and help, change details, make claims, but are charged rip-off rates to do so and end up with big phone bills they can't afford.

"We already make millions of calls to government departments and things are set to get worse. Upheaval and turmoil in the benefits system will bring an explosion of inquiries and problems.

"The Government could make things easier for people but, instead, they've set up their new helplines as costly 0845 numbers.

"Members of the public are subsidising the Government's phone bills to the tune of millions of pounds and phone companies are making a fortune.

"Living costs are high enough already without the Government hiking up phone bills through this telephone tax."

PA

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker