Keeping a record of these things:
Yesterday morning, I made two calls to the DWP’s Debt Management “helpline” – the 0345 850 0293 number that people who receive benefits, including Universal Credit, must use to sort out problems with debt money that the DWP deducts from people’s Universal Credit payments.
I had to call twice yesterday (I didn’t have all the information that DWP Debt Management required the first time around. Unfortunately, I had to make the first call to find that out). I was on hold for more than 20 minutes both times to that 0345 850 0293 DWP Debt Management helpline, as you can see in the image below. I also called the line on Friday and was on hold for more than ten minutes, before I had to hang up to deal with something else.
As far as I can tell, this number has a charge. (I have a phone contract which covers those charges – that’s why I make calls for people who don’t). I hope this is one of the numbers that David Gauke has decided will be free soon. All helplines lines should have been free in the first place (I’d ask the DWP’s press office where things are at on all of these lines, but their answer to all my questions these days is to submit an FOI. So I have).
People who ring the DWP Debt Management helpline only ring that number because they have a debt problem and are in serious financial hardship. They can least afford extra charges for phone calls:
I was calling on behalf of young woman who claims Universal Credit and whose story I’ve been covering. She is concerned about deductions for child tax credit debt that the DWP is taking from her Universal Credit payments. She disputes the tax credit debt. The DWP has taken over tax credit debt recovery for Universal Credit claimants from the HMRC.
Trying to get to the bottom of disputes and problems with deductions from benefits like this literally takes forever. It really does. It drives people out of their minds. The whole “process,” is unbelievably stressful. I can’t emphasis strongly enough the difficulties we’re having just finding the right people to talk to – or getting through to anyone at all.
I called Universal Credit on Friday to try and understand who to contact. We wanted to do two things – challenge the tax credit debt and stop the reductions from benefit. Universal Credit said we’d have to speak to the HMRC about challenging the tax credit debt decision, and then to DWP Debt Management about stopping or reducing the deductions the DWP was taking from the Universal Credit payments each month.
Universal Credit gave me two different numbers to call. There was no suggestion that Universal Credit could just me put through to DWP Debt Management. I had to make new calls all over again. I’ve literally spent the time I’ve had available since then on hold to DWP Debt Management.
I post this, because I want to keep talking about the problems that people who are on the lowest incomes and most in need have with these systems. Waiting on hold to a debt management department for more than 20 minutes when you’ve got a serious debt and income problem is dreadful. It really is. People have complicated situations, too. I had to call Debt Management twice yesterday, as I say, because I didn’t have all the information needed when I made the first call. That sort of thing happens all the time. It meant I had to find the information, dial DWP Debt Management again and wait another 20+ minutes for the phone to be answered.
This really is the sort of thing that has people climbing the walls.