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Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 13 June 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the impact of the teleclaiming system on claimants (a) with psychosis, (b) with other mental illnesses, (c) on low income and (d) for whom English is a second language. (66070)

[holding answer 26 April 2006]: While no specific research has been undertaken in relation to the impact on people with specific conditions such as psychosis, Jobcentre Plus aims to make access to its services as straightforward as possible.

Initial contact by telephone is our normal and preferred way of taking claims. However, our delivery of services is tailored to meet individual customer requirements taking health conditions, disabilities, and language barriers into consideration. Staff will hold face to face interviews where a customer cannot use telephone based services.

Where a customer’s first language is not English, Jobcentre Plus will use Language Line which provides a translation service between customer and our staff. We also provide other translation services and specialist equipment for disabled customers.

We recognise that customers on a low income may be concerned about the costs of calls made to the Contact Centre. Jobcentre Plus Contact Centres operate a local BT rate 0845 number although customers using mobile telephones or other landline networks are charged at their network provider’s normal tariff. Customers can also use “warm phones” in local Jobcentre Plus offices to make this call free of charge and when asked we can arrange to call them back at any point during their call.

In addition we are currently operating a free phone pilot within two of our Contact Centres, where we are offering a 0800 free phone number to customers using our services from a landline. If the pilot is successful we are considering extending this nationally.

In delivering high quality services to our wide and diverse customer groups, we do recognise that some customers face particular difficulties. For example, we are working in consultation with stakeholder groups such as the Royal National Institute for the Deaf to continuously improve our processes.

The Department has recently established a group to examine best practice in the use of telephony for people who have difficulty accessing services and this group will make recommendations on implementing service changes.

Jobcentre Plus is about to commission a programme of research to look at whether certain groups, such as customers with specific physical and/or learning difficulties have problems making contact. The results of this research will be available by early summer 2007.