This article titled “Unemployed deliberately held in call centre queues to promote website” was written by Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor, for guardian.co.uk on Sunday 16th September 2012 12.42 UTC
Jobseekers are being kept hanging on the telephone for at least five minutes before they are connected to a member of staff in jobcentres – a deliberate move to encourage people to make online claims, internal documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.
The new policy, outlined in an memo entitled Job Seekers’ Allowance Online Performance Improvement, means that an unemployed person calling a jobcentre call centre will be forced to wait for five minutes not because staff are too busy to answer the phones but so that they can listen to “the advantages of using the online service, ie will receive their entitlement decisions more quickly than those who use the telephone”.
Even once claimants get through, the instruction to call centres is to talk them into claiming online. “Those who choose to remain on the phone will be able to use the telephony service to begin their claim”.
Charities said that vulnerable people often do not have internet access. A spokesman for the Child Poverty Action Group said: “Claimants themselves are the best judge of whether they are able to make a claim online. The department should not be using this kind of tactic to push them in a direction which might not be suitable for everyone.”
Underlining the new policy is the government’s target that 80% of new claims for unemployment benefit should be made online by September 2013. By March this year only 20% of new claims were submitted online.
The problem for the welfare secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, is that the online flagship universal credit policy will only work if claimants not only claim jobseeker’s allowance and other benefits online but also manage their benefits and job searches online.
“We need to achieve this [80% target] to support the delivery of universal credit next year,” reads the memo.
The Department for Work and Pensions emphasised that the government tried to ensure that poor people could access jobcentre call centres. It pointed out that “calls to the telephone claim service are free for all calls from landlines and for the vast majority of mobile users”.
Official figures show that about 1.8 million people have already claimed jobseeker’s allowance online.
In a statement, Duncan Smith said: “We are now encouraging people who wish to make a claim to jobseeker’s allowance to do so online. The Office of National Statistics shows us that 83% of the British population use the internet. Claims that are made online can be processed more quickly and efficiently. Claimants are still free to contact us by telephone to make a claim.”
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