I have added my voice to concerns regarding the UK Government’s use of expensive premium phone lines.
Phone charges for people seeking essential information are regularly set at 55p a minute, but can go up to £1.37 a minute for some Home Office Services.
The high costs of these phone charges are being highlighted at a time when the DWP are closing job centres across Scotland, including the Port Glasgow job centre.
Yet again we are seeing UK Government rules that hinder people who simply want information about the services they are entitled to. These exorbitant phone charges are unjustifiable, particularly when the UK Government knows that many of the users accessing the service will be on low incomes.
While an initial DWP enquiry is free, follow up calls about a claim, sanction or to report that a benefit has not been paid all are subject to charges. Long waiting times mean that it is not unusual for a phone call to cost £15 or £20.
Other constituents who have phoned the child maintenance helpline, or the Home Office helpline that handles spousal visa cases have been subject to costs of £1.37 a minute, over and above network charges.
Network charges themselves work against the most vulnerable. Although ‘0345’ numbers are usually included in mobile phone contracts, those on low incomes are more likely to have a ‘pay as you go’ deal. This means poorer households and pensioners can be charged at the higher rate.
The UK Government should abandon this telephone tax and adopt the recommendations of the DWP select committee by introducing 0800 free-phone numbers for these services.
It’s time for the UK Government to treat people with care and compassion, rather than a cash-cow and a resource to be exploited.