Ring the changes on rip-off phonelines, says South Yorkshire MP

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‘RIP-off’ Government phonelines have been criticised by a South Yorkshire MP in a House of Commons debate.

The discussion on the use of 0845 and 0870 numbers was called by Wentworth and Dearne Labour MP John Healey, who has campaigned for public services in his constituency to stop using them.

Mr Healey’s latest efforts are against the Department for Work and Pensions.

He found the department has 148 of the numbers – making up 87 per cent of all its phonelines – which cost up to 10p a minute from a landline and up to 41p a minute from a mobile.

Mr Healey told fellow MPs: “Well over 30 million people call just seven of the DWP’s most commonly used inquiry lines each year, never mind the other 141. People who need to call those numbers are usually on a fixed, low income.

“They are elderly, vulnerable or unwell, and they are being charged rip-off rates to sort out problems or simply get information about sickness and disability benefits, carers support, jobs, pensions, child support and even crisis loans.

“The cost of the call takes a big chunk out of already stretched budgets. That can put people off making calls to get the help they need.”

People have to use 0845 lines for help finding a job, to apply for the Social Fund, and to enquire about Disability Living Allowance, Incapacity Benefit changes, Carers Allowance, winter fuel payments, child maintenance and pensions.

Mr Healey said a key feature of 0845 numbers was a ‘termination rate’ of up to 2p a minute levied on each call which goes to the company or organisation receiving the call.

Mr Healey said calls should be made free or the Government should switch to 03, which costs the same as 01 or 02 numbers and must be part of inclusive call packages.