Universal credit helpline loses more than a million callers

As the government continues to press on with the Universal Credit roll out against a growing
tide of resistance from the opposition parties, public figures and even within its own party,
one of the constant phrases we have heard is that there is an abundance of support
available at the end of the phone to help claimants get to grips with the new system.
This claim must sound like a sick joke to more than a million claimants who tried to get
through to the helpline and gave up before the call was answered.

Parliamentary question

The shocking statistic that so many calls for help went unanswered came in answer to a
Parliamentary question asked by Jim McMahon, the labour MP for Oldham West and
Royton. It was revealed that 1.3 million calls to the Universal Credit helpline were
abandoned before anyone picked up between September 2016 and October 2017.
That amounts to one in eight calls going unanswered. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the highest
volume was between August and October of last year, when there were more than 360,000
abandoned calls.

Lies, damn lies and statistics?

Mr McMahon said the figures clearly show that it is not just claimants who are at their wits
end over the Universal Credit debacle, but even those within the DWP, who are supposed to
be providing help and guidance, are finding it next to impossible to cope.

However, a spokeswoman for the DWP described his remarks as “disingenuous,” saying
calls were being answered within five minutes, and that there could be numerous reasons
why callers might hang up.

Of course, both a labour MP and a DWP spokesperson have their agendas, and each will
place their own spin on statistics, but from a neutral perspective, it certainly seems that if
anyone is being disingenuous, it is not Jim McMahon.

Sure, we have all dialled a number and then hung up the phone because of a knock at the
door, a crying baby or some other distraction. But to suggest that this applies to one in eight
callers and more than a million claimants who were worried enough to ring the helpline in the
first place is stretching the bounds of credibility, to put it mildly.

Where is the help?

Anyone who has moved onto the new Universal Credits system will know that the biggest
challenge is the fact that there can be a gap in payments of up to six weeks. For the vast
majority of claimants, this is unworkable at the best of times, but it must have been even
more of a nightmare for those facing such circumstances over the festive period.

It is reasonable to assume that the phone lines in December were even more stretched, and
there can be little doubt that when those statistics are released, they will tell more of the
same story.

The DWP were quick to point out that most claimants now claim over the internet and use
the online portal to deal with any queries instead of picking up the phone. However, this is to
compare apples with oranges, as there is no indication whatsoever that those 1.3 million
decided to hang up the phone and go online instead!

Share your experiences

At Hylton Potts, we have first-hand experience of helping claimants with their concerns over
the Universal Credits roll out, and at least with us you can be confident that we will pick up
the phone! Please do give us a call, and a member of our friendly team of experts will be
delighted to offer some objective and impartial advice. You can reach us on 020 7381 8111,
or drop us an email us at law@hylton-potts.com.

We would also be interested in your comments, particularly if you have had first hand
experience of the Universal Credits helpline. How long were you kept waiting, or were you
one of the 1.3 million who hung up because you “went to answer the door?” Please leave
your comments in the section below.