DWP staff are routinely encouraged to use “deflection scripts” in order to deter claimants from calling the Universal Credit helpline, it has been revealed.
Callers are asked to explain the reason for contacting the helpline before providing security information, because this “may open up an opportunity” to deflect claimants to the Universal Credit website as a means of reducing the total number of calls the helpline receives.
However, trials found that some DWP call handlers “moved straight into solution mode which is limiting the opportunity to deflect online”.
Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd MP (pictured below), initially denied the allegation, but evidence of the scripts have since been uncovered by Scottish Labour MP Danielle Rowley.
It has been widely reported that many people struggle to claim Universal Credit online or have difficulties in managing their claims, often due to a lack of internet access or poor IT literacy.
Commenting, Ms Rowley said: “This proves that not only does the DWP operate a callous and indefensible policy of not helping sometimes desperate callers over the phone, it is prepared to mislead the public to try to hide it.
“If the DWP can try and fob off my official inquiries and Parliamentary questions in this way it’s hardly surprising claimants are being forced to jump through hoops.
“Labour has called for a root and branch review of Universal Credit. But Amber Rudd must also come clean about practices like this, and apologise to claimants and the brave whistleblower who has exposed this.”
Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “Our members would prefer to be given the resources and time to give a first class service to help claimants.
“However they are instructed to use this deflection script as a means to get people off the phones.
“It is another example of a government who has failed to invest in staff and support claimants.
“This is why Universal Credit must be scrapped and replaced with a system that supports those in need.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “As a matter of course we don’t comment on leaked documents.
“There has never been a policy to hurry callers off the phone and accusations that this is the case are completely false.
“Call handlers are encouraged to spend as much time as necessary on the phone and remind claimants that they are able to complete certain activities online where appropriate.”