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Social Security Benefits: Telephone Services

Volume 464: debated on Wednesday 10 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the (a) efficacy and (b) fairness of requiring applicants for income support, jobseekers allowance and incapacity benefit to use a telephone; if he will review the requirement that an emergency crisis loan cannot be made from a Jobcentre Plus office customer phone; what estimate he has made of the number of claimants who applied on pay-as-you-go mobile phones that do not give free calls to the 0800 number in the latest period for which figures are available; what estimate he has made of how often applicants did not complete the journey through the automated menu options; and what estimate he has made of how often staff offered applicants alternative means to claim. (155271)

[holding answer 12 September 2007]: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. I have asked her to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Lesley Strathie dated, 9 October 2007:

The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question about applications for benefits and emergency Crisis Loans by telephone. This is something that falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.

Contact Centres were introduced partly in response to the Government’s desire to offer a modernised service and partly to respond to customer feedback that Jobcentre Plus services should be handled by phone.

Contact Centres:

are generally more convenient for customers to access (i.e. removes the need to visit a local office);

can offer services over longer opening hours more cost effectively; and

can deliver services more efficiently (e.g. through the more efficient use of space and the better utilisation of staff time).

We take new claims over the telephone as this ensures that we have all the necessary information to complete the claim, therefore minimising any potential delay. However, customers who have difficulty using the telephone for whatever reason can request a face-to-face interview or, where appropriate, a home visit. They can also choose to claim using a clerical claim form.

Customers are not currently permitted to use customer access phones in Jobcentres to make claims for crisis loans. This decision is being reviewed following a request from the Work and Pensions Select Committee and because it is appropriate to keep under review the risks associated with customer reaction to negative decisions. Consultation with relevant parties is underway with specific attention being paid to the issue of access to customers, particularly those who only have the use of mobile phones.

Information is not available regarding the type of telephone used by customers to contact us, as we cannot identify and do not record whether the customer is using a mobile (pay-as-you-go or other) or landline.

We have recently introduced management information to assess disconnected calls during the automated menu options. The months with complete data are June and July 2007 when we received in total 1,197,960 calls to the First Contact Interactive Voice Response. Of these, 155,466 have been disconnected by the customer before being transferred to the queue. Indications for this point to the fact that customers do not have all the information required to make a claim when going through the Interactive Voice Response.

Information is not available on how often customer service agents offer alternative means to claim benefits. However, staff have clear guidance on the circumstances in which customers should be offered different options.