Thousands Of Claimants Blocked From Overloaded PIP Hotline Dubbed ‘Berlin Wall’
Thousands of disabled people have been blocked from getting through to an overloaded benefits hotline, the Mirror can reveal.
Callers could not sign up for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) 18,949 times due to “heavy demand” from January to April – 4,700 a month.
The glitches froze out 1.7% of all calls to the Department for Work and Pensions’ PIP enquiry line, which costs up to 45p a minute.
The shock figure dwarfs the number of failed calls to the separate free PIP claim line, where just 0.04% could not get through.
Labour MP Frank Field, who obtained the figures, said he will be demanding answers from Tory ministers in Parliament.
Read more: Iain Duncan Smith charging families 45p a minute to talk about benefits
The Work and Pensions Committee chairman told the Mirror: “They’ve erected a wall of silence to prevent claimants registering.
“There’s not a deliberate attempt to stop people but it totally favours one side. It’s like building a Berlin Wall around the benefits so people can’t access them.
“One way of rationing it is to charge people a fortune and the other is to not pick up the phone.”
The Mirror revealed in February how the DWP was charging benefit claimants up to 45p a minute by using 0345 numbers for its enquiry lines.
And last month we told how an all-day outage hit the PIP hotline – which will have added thousands more to the total of failed calls.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Owen Smith said: “Each new set of statistics show the Tories are letting down disabled people.
“Tory cuts to help for disabled people have mounted up to over £24bn since 2010 and further cuts this year will see half a million people lose an extra £1,500 a year in support.
Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb could be grilled on the figures in Parliament
“Given this amount of misery it’s no wonder the DWP helplines are snarled up with people needing support.
“It shows the lack of respect the Tories have that they can’t make sure people facing these huge cuts have easy access to the information helpline.
There were 1,113,803 calls to the PIP enquiry line in between January 1 and April 30, 18,949 of which were not connected.
There were 411,147 calls to the PIP claim line in the same period, just 168 of which could not be connected.
Minister for disabled people Justin Tomlinson said the DWP ropes in staff from other roles, opens longer hours and asks existing call handlers to stay behind at busy times.
A DWP spokesman said: “We aim to deal with all PIP queries as quickly as possible and encourage anyone who has trouble getting through to call back.”