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Departmental Telephone Services

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 30 April 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the average (a) length and (b) cost (i) in total and (ii) per minute to callers of calls to each helpline operated by his Department and its agencies in each of the last five years. (271115)

The information is as follows:

DWP helpline

Average call length

Total cost (in pence)

Cost per minute (in pence)

0800

Pension Credit Application Line

14.56

1

1

0800

State Pension Application Line

14.40

1

1

0800

Benefit Inquiry Line

3.29

1

1

0845

General Inquiries

6.01

31.22

5.19

0845

Future Pensions

6.52

33.19

5.09

0191

International Pensions

6.54

58.61

8.96

0845

Disability Living Allowance

7.05

35.24

5.0

2

Carer’s Allowance

6.20

55.98

9.03

0800

Crisis Loans

21.15

1

1

0845

Employment Support Allowance

6.25

32.15

5.14

0845

Incapacity Benefit

4.29

24.57

5.73

0845

Income Support

4.37

24.88

5.70

0845

Jobseeker’s Allowance

5.44

29.02

5.33

0845

Maternity Allowance

5.33

28.59

5.36

0845

Social Fund

2.34

17.04

7.28

0845

Jobseeker Direct

4.22

24.30

5.76

0800

First Contact

18.11

1

1

0845

Employer Direct

6.30

32.34

5.13

0845

National Insurance Number Allocations

5.54

29.40

5.31

0800

Crisis Loan Contingency

12.51

1

1

0800

Crisis Loan Decision

29.51

1

1

0800

National Benefit Fraud Hotline

8.36

1

1

0800

Tax Evasion Hotline

7.22

1

1

0845

Debt Management

3.21

20.40

6.36

1 No cost.

2 Various STD numbers.

Notes:

1. Figures are taken from 2008-09. Some figures are based on quarterly performance and others on yearly performance.

2, Figures for the past five years not available as they were not recorded in the format requested.

3. To provide an illustration of the cost of calls the table uses BT’s standard landline tariff of 3.864p per minute, with an 8p set up charge. Both amounts are inclusive of VAT.

4. The telecommunications market is very complex, with many different providers, all with their own tariffs and call plans. Recent research by the Department shows that over 80 per cent. of our customers contact the Department using landlines. As BT account for two-thirds of landline provision the table uses BT’s landline tariff to calculate average costs. Only 9 per cent. of BT landline customers do not have a package that may now include free calls to 0845 numbers.

5. Figures for average call length include speed of answer and time spent with an agent.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the average cost to a caller of a mobile telephone call to a helpline operated by his Department; and if he will make representations to mobile telephone network providers to seek to lower these costs. (271116)

The average cost of a call from a mobile telephone to numbers used by the Department varies widely. It depends on the contract between mobile operators and a caller, the number used—0800 for initial claims and 0845 for changes in circumstances, and the length of the call.

Charges are generally in the 10p to 15p range, but can be up to about 40p for some ‘pay as you go’ contracts. If a mobile caller is concerned about charges, they can ask to be called back.

Following consultation with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) and the Office of Communications (OFCOM), the Department is making representations to mobile telephone operators to reduce and where possible eradicate these costs for its customers. As a first step, it is approaching operators to provide a free phone service for 0800 numbers. BT has already announced that calls to 0800 numbers will be free from 1 May. The Department hopes other operators will follow this lead.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps his Department has taken to reduce the cost to callers of a telephone call to its helplines; and if he will provide freephones in Jobcentres for clients to call such helplines. (271117)

DWP's telephony numbering policy is that:

Calls to claim benefit should be free, so we should use 0800 numbers.

Calls for other reasons, which take less time to resolve, should be charged at a standard rate, so we should use 0845 numbers.

We currently offer to call back customers who request a call back, so that we can absorb the cost of the call.

We are constantly evaluating whether our numbering approach and technology best serves our customers. The telecommunications market is ever changing and increasingly complex and we are keen that our numbering policy is sustainable and continues to meet the needs of our customers. To ensure we maintain a consistently up-to-date view of the situation we are working with Ofcom, our telephony suppliers and with other telephony service providers.

While we encourage customers to access self-service and telephone channels from their own home, for Jobcentre Plus customers, free to use Customer Access Phones with direct dial to our Helplines are available for those who do not have access to a telephone at home. People assessed to be in a vulnerable position due to their personal circumstances, for example customers who are homeless, can also make use of the Customer Access Phones.

In addition, Jobcentre Plus offices have touch screen Jobpoint terminals installed for customers to use to access the same full range of vacancies available through the Jobseeker Direct helpline.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many complaints (a) his Department and (b) each of its agencies received on the cost of telephone calls to their helplines in the latest period for which figures are available. (271119)

The cost of calls to our helplines is not identified as a separate category in the Department's complaint data. Accordingly the information you request is not available.