Call handlers working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) do not have time to adequately help benefits claimants, a DWP call centre employee has claimed.
DWP call handlers answer the telephone to ill and disabled people who are “at their lowest point” and need help navigating “the complex claims system so that they can get a meagre payout”, the anonymous worker told the Guardian, who said he speaks to cancer patients, people with organ failure and the recently bereaved, among others.
Despite the sensitive nature of the calls, DWP staff have to complete conversations in an average of less than 23 minutes.
The DWP has been heavily criticised for failing vulnerable people, in particular by deeming some with serious health conditions "fit to work".
Figures released in 2015 showed that the system for assessing benefits claims was failing so badly that thousands of people who had been found fit to work died within six weeks of the decision.
More than half of claimants who appealed the DWP's decision that they could return to work had the verdict overturned.
Other people were too vulnerable to appeal the decision and some have killed themselves after their benefits were stopped.
A series of internal inquiries into the deaths of people claiming social security found government ministers were repeatedly warned that vulnerable people were struggling to cope with benefit cuts and were not being sufficiently supported by DWP staff.
According to the anonymous call centre worker, staff who are meant to guide people through making a claim do not have the capacity to do their job properly.
“In the DWP’s modern-day version of a sweatshop, we staff are singularly ill-equipped to actually offer any help or support,” the call handler said, adding that staff had had no training in how sickness benefits work.
“I don’t know what happens when I send a claim to be processed, so I can’t answer any questions about what will happen next or when somebody will get a payment."
DWP call centre managers pressure employees to make people who often want to talk about their condition stick to yes or no answers and don't allow them time to offer reassurance, the insider said.
The source added that there is no measure of how good a service call handlers provide, or whether or not the claim is successful – quality checks only extend to whether or not staff are reading every word of a script and monitoring the duration of calls.
The worker admitted to straying off script to explain the importance of sending the DWP notes from the doctor on a regular basis, adding that this was not in the official phonecall script despite "being absolutely key information and a major stumbling block for many new claimants".
After some calls, the DWP employee said they felt like crying because they knew they had 'failed' the caller, but they didn't have time to take a break and had to proceed immediately to the next call.
"This will continue presumably until the Government finally finds a way to do away with benefits entirely, at which point our sick and disabled people will be left with nothing, not even my hurried 23 minutes of script," the source said.
A DWP spokesperson said: “It’s important that we provide an effective service to manage the scale of our business – in 2014/15 alone we processed 5 million benefit and pension claims and took over 47 million calls in our contact centre.
“We ensure our staff have the time they need to get the key information, process the claim, and pass on to specialist staff if need be, so that people get their benefit payments as soon as possible.”
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