Premium rate phone lines ‘must be scrapped’

FORMER Cabinet Minister John Healey will today challenge the Department of Work and Pensions to abolish its premium-rate 0845 telephone lines that can see benefit claimants amass phone bills of £40 a month.

The Wentworth and Dearne MP will lead a House of Commons debate on the issue, claiming that the DWP is responsible for 148 of these lines which cost up to 41p a minute from a mobile and 10p a minute from a landline.

A Freedom of Information request has ascertained that 32 million calls are made each year to the Department’s seven most commonly-used 0845 lines, meaning the elderly and benefit claimants are forking out more than £100m a year in charges.

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Writing in today’s Yorkshire Post, Mr Healey says: “The fact is, the DWP is profiting at the expense of the people it is there to help.

“And I fear there could be an explosion of enquiries and problems for people dealing with the system because of the current turmoil in the benefits system. The combination of sudden cuts in payment, delays in decisions and the new universal credit next year could lead to chaos – and much higher costs for those making the calls.

“0845 numbers tend to be revenue-sharing schemes which means, while the DWP say 
they don’t make money from them, they can get discounts on bills.”

Mr Healey wants the Department to follow the example of local doctors who stopped using 0845 numbers following complaints by patients.