Millions of Britain’s poorest and most vulnerable people are being “fleeced” by rip-off 0845 helplines, it has been reported today.
According to a report by the Daily Mirror, figures uncovered by Labour MP Frank Field show than pensioners, carers and benefit claimants are still being charged for higher rate calls, despite promises from the government two years ago that it would phase out 0845 helpline numbers.
Since 2012, the Pension Service has received around 12 million 0845 prefix calls, including 2.5 million over the last year.
2.9 million 0845 calls were made to the Carer’s Allowance helpline, while more than 530,000 people called for advice about Winter Fuel Payments and 360,439 higher rate calls were made about Bereavement Benefits.
0845 calls can cost anywhere from between 1p and 12p a minute from a landline and from 5p to 40p if calling from a mobile phone.
Callers spent a combined total of £56 million from using 0845 helplines in 2012 alone.
Frank Field said: “At the very point in their lives when millions of people are most in need, they are being fleeced by the Government and the phone companies.
“Ministers promised over a year ago that these rip-off lines would be scrapped. Might they now sanction such a move as quickly as they sanction claimants?”
The Cabinet Office issued guidance in 2013, stating it was “inappropriate” for “vulnerable and low-income groups” to pay “substantial charges for accessing core public services”.
Two years later the Department for Work and Pensions is still “in the process of replacing all its 0845 number prefixes in use for its national helplines”.
A DWP spokesperson added: “We introduced 0345 numbers for DWP national helpline service numbers – this is alongside an 0845 option, which can currently be cheaper for some dependent on their telephony provider.”