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DWP Call Centres Will Cause Life-Threatening Destitution

November 4, 2022

With many thanks to Benefits And Work.


The shocking level of service at DWP call centres will lead to life-threatening destitution for some claimants when the forced migration from legacy benefits to universal credit (UC) begins in earnest, the experience of Benefits and Work readers shows. 

In particular, claimants who need an extension of time for their UC claim will face losing all their legacy benefits if they are unable to get through to the DWP on the phone.

In the spring, Benefits and Work published two pages asking readers for their experiences of calling the DWP. 

The first is entitled ‘Which DWP number are you struggling to get through on?’ and asks for readers experiences of trying to get through to a range of DWP numbers, including the UC helpline, the PIP enquiry line and the Jobcentre Plus for ESA change of circumstances line.

The second article followed on from this and asked specifically for readers experiences of calling the ‘0800 121 4433 PIP Enquiry Line’.

What we’ve learnt from the hundreds of responses that continue to come in is that callers can be left waiting literally hours without being answered, not just once, but day after day.  They can be repeatedly cut-off after they have answered AI bot security questions.  Sometimes callers get through and can briefly hear human voices in the background before being cut-off.  And sometimes they have actually begun speaking to a human being before being cut-off.

Under any circumstances, and for any benefits issue, this would be distressing.

But in relation to a forced moved to UC, this could lead to sudden and disastrous poverty.

The DWP have published a web page specifically for claimants who have been contacted and told they must move from legacy benefits to UC.  On it, claimants are warned:

To continue receiving financial support you must claim Universal Credit by the deadline date given in your letter. This is 3 months from the date the letter was sent out.

This gives you time to gather any information and evidence, such as identity documents that you need to make your claim.

It may take time to gather all your documents and evidence to make your claim online, so you need to act as soon as possible.

If you cannot claim Universal Credit by the deadline date given on your letter, you should contact the Universal Credit Migration Notice helpline as soon as possible.

We can only give you more time to make a claim if you have a good reason. You must request this before the deadline date on your letter.

And there’s the issue.  If the DWP stick to their current timetable, they will attempt to move 2.5 million claimants from legacy benefits onto UC in the space of a single year.

Many of those claimants are likely to have problems meeting all the DWP’s requirements.   

Some will struggle with paperwork because of mental health issues or learning difficulties. Some will find it hard to engage with the process because of anxiety. Some will be too physically unwell to respond.  Some will have their health conditions made significantly worse by the process itself.

As a result, many thousands of claimants will need to ask for an extension by phoning the helpline.

But with the dreadful level of service that the DWP provide, and with desperate and confused claimants calling multiple times every day about problems with migration, it’s virtually unavoidable that the phone lines will be overwhelmed. 

People who are unable to get through to ask for an extension are likely to see their benefits stopped altogether. It’s a situation that scarcely bears thinking about, but unless something is done it is one which will happen repeatedly.

We are urging readers to contact their MP, talk to disability charities that they have connections with and begin to raise awareness of this issue, before it’s too late.

With 2.5 million claimants being migrated to UC in a year, we need to know how many calls the DWP expect to have to deal with. How many new call centres will they open to cope with the vast number of enquiries they are likely to receive?  How many extra staff will they employ?  What training will they receive?  What targets will they have for how long callers are left on hold?  How long they will spend on average talking to each caller?  Will they make calls out to claimants who fail to meet the deadline to find out why?

The Scottish government are managing to move all their PIP claimants over to adult disability payment without threatening any of them with having their money stopped. 

The DWP could do the same for legacy benefit claimants – they are simply choosing not to.

And, in case you imagine we are exaggerating the difficulties people encounter trying to talk to the DWP on the phone, we’ve published some readers experiences below.

Members can download a copy of our 21 page guide to moving from ESA to UC from the ESA guides page.

 If you want to stay informed about UC migration, sign up for our free ‘My UC Alerts’ and we’ll email you when there’s important news.

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