Labour brings in free calls to benefit claim lines

When I first moved to Manchester, I was unemployed, living in a single rented room in Cheetham Hill, and basically penniless. I was very lucky that a friend was able to lend me some money for my housing deposit and for food. By the time I’d bought the essentials – Granny Smiths, tea, soya milk, a packet of biscuits and about twelve packets of noodles – all I had left was change. I needed a job, and fast.

When I schlepped up Cheetham Hill Road to the Jobcentre, I was dismayed to be handed a ‘phone number for claiming JSA (0800 055 6688, if you need it) and told to go away and call it. Don’t get me wrong, the callcentre staff were brilliantly helpful, and I got everything I needed in the post the next day. But the call used up all my precious ‘phone credit (call costs from mobiles obviously vary, but half an hour on hold to the JC+ can cost you up to twelve quid). This meant it was back up the hill to use the Jobcentre’s ‘phone every time I wanted to call a prospective employer.

For me that was a one-off pain in the arse – for thousands, it’s a daily barrier. A lot of people don’t have the regular disposable income or the housing security to get a landline, and the 2008 Nations and Regions Communications Market Report by Ofcom showed that the poorest people are the most likely to rely on a mobile, especially in the North. Leeds CAB published a report last summer on the mobile-related barriers facing people who want to claim benefits, or change their benefits, or check that their benefits are still being paid, or find out why a payment has been missed…or, of course, to try and find a job. Every CAB has to spend time and resources sitting with people who may be perfectly capable of calling the Jobcentre on their own, but can’t afford to. It seems like such a small thing, but it’s a vicious circle of poverty. Or rather – it was.

Yvette Cooper, Labour’s Work and Pensions Secretary, has announced that from next week, O2, Orange, Vodafone, Tesco Mobile, T-Mobile will no longer charge customers for calls to benefit claim lines at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). (Many thanks to Labour Matters for bringing this to my attention!)

Lizzie Iron, Citizens Advice Head of Welfare Policy said:

“We are very pleased to welcome the announcement by the DWP that calls to most of their 0800 numbers will be free to many more customers, thanks to an agreement between the Department and six of the biggest mobile phone operators.

“For many years, we have been concerned about the cost of calling government to access basic services such as benefits and crisis loans. Successive Citizens Advice reports, from Not Getting Through in 2007, to Hung-UP published by Leeds CAB in summer 2009, have highlighted the prohibitive costs for people who do not have a landline, and depend on a mobile phone. In the last two years, DWP has introduced several 0800 numbers to ensure that calls are free from a landline, but these calls can still be expensive from mobile phones.

“It will mean that people on the lowest incomes will no longer be spending money they can’t afford, simply to claim the benefits that might keep them out of poverty. We particularly welcome the fact that it will now be free of charge to claim a crisis loan – which is critical for people in the most urgent need of a financial safety net.

“Other government departments may not have the same opportunity to negotiate with the phone companies, but it is vital that they continue to look at other ways to reduce the cost of calling government, and therefore keep more money in the pockets of those who need it most.

“However we are particularly disappointed that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs haven’t made more progress on this issue. Anyone with a problem over income tax, child benefit or tax credits could still be paying several pounds to call HMRC from a mobile phone. Today’s National Audit Office report is critical of HMRC’s handling of telephone enquiries, and we hope their recommendations are implemented as a matter of urgency by HMRC.”

There we have it – good news from the DWP, keep up the pressure on HMRC. And maybe 3-Mobile while we’re at it?

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10 thoughts on “Labour brings in free calls to benefit claim lines

  1. No-one seems to have mentioned that once your claim has fallen into the deepest pit of DWP incompetence that you have to telephone 0845 numbers to pursue the matter; there seems to be no plan for these calls to be charged at standard rates for claimants calling from mobile phones.

    Therefore this change will only help at the beginning of a claim, not during the claim (which is when most people in my ten year CAB experience actually need to spend hours on the phone to the DWP…) Yet again, sadly, Labour flatters itself to decieve.

    1. Ben, You have obviously been down the same paths as me. One wonders how you get one of these jobs at the DWP.
      You phone an 0845 number for some advice and after phoning a further four 0845 numbers are advised to phone the 0845 number you called in the first place – so you have achieved nothing except to gain a big phone bill.
      Surely common sense tells us that these numbers need to be 0800 numbers – but then again we are talking about the Government so what has common sense got to do with it?

  2. That is good news but what about the poor people shoved off onto inflexible new deal. Ironically called P.O.E.T

    I have been told that If i want the travel costs for going to beacon centre for the blind I have to ring a mobile phone number. So how can the government justify their statement.

  3. Actually this is all false the government is slitting its own throat to give people onto the new third party providers for FND like a4e. And I was urged most strongly to dial a mobile phone number to get my travel coss sorted out. I am unemployed and I cant afford to do that

  4. i have been using http://saynoto0870.com/ for 4 years, it used to be great for all the government agency numbers but there has been a recent change and all the numbers for income support, lone parent and child support no longer work. I was told over the phone by one helpfull member of staff that they have some sort agreement that if you are using a mobile phone they can phone you back- which is great- but you can only ask these people to call you back after you have either waited in a queue or spent time typing in ‘security details’ then waited again to get put through to the applicable department -which for me they have gotten it wrong 5 times(i gave up). I have ended up paying £30 in 2days trying to get through to the correct dept. something has to be done about this- the most needy are the most affected.
    I have seen sex lines advertised that are cheaper to phone than DWP!!!!!!

  5. Some lines are still 0845 numbers though, such as Jobseekers allowance. In my view anyone who wishes to contact any Government benefits dept shouldn’t be charged

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