Turn2us has called upon the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to reconsider charging individuals who need to claim for Universal Credit over the phone. The policy will affect those who cannot access Universal Credit online, with vulnerable claimants likely to be impacted upon most heavily. The 0345 number, which will cost users 45p a minute from a mobile or 12p from a landline, is currently being advertised on the government’s Universal Credit website despite previous pledges to ensure that calls to such numbers should be free of charge.
Simon Hopkins, Chief Executive of Turn2us, commented:
“Too often those that are struggling financially are not claiming for support that they are entitled to. This can lead to individuals and families being further driven into financial hardship. A lack of awareness is certainly a factor, but undoubtedly stigma about claiming and concerns around the complexity of the system are major factors too. This is especially true for more vulnerable individuals who may not find it easy to ask for support without assistance.
“As a charity that provides support to individuals struggling financially through our website - www.turn2us.org.uk - we would agree that seeking help online is incredibly important, but our experience also shows that over the phone contact is crucial for harder to reach groups. That is why we provide a free helpline for those that cannot access our support online and why we are so concerned that these groups are being asked to call an expensive 0345 number in order to access the information that they so vitally need as well as making a claim.”
Department for Work and Pensions response
The Department for Work and Pensions has responded that claimants can ask to be called back and that the vast majority applying for Universal Credit prefer accessing support online. However some argue that the policy will still deter many of those who are struggling.
"Very poorest that find it most difficult to find what help is out there"
“Our research shows that it is the very poorest that find it most difficult to find what help is out there,” added Simon Hopkins. “This not only relates to welfare benefits but also social tariffs, discretionary funds administered through local councils and charitable grants. It must be a priority for all organisations, especially charities and public bodies that work with vulnerable groups, to review how accessible they are to those that find it hard to access support. We should also be pushing to work together across the different sectors to integrate our approach - someone struggling with one service is likely to be struggling with others. There is genuine help available but any practical barriers to people accessing that help are a real problem.”
Our website has information about Universal Credit, including details of who can make a claim and a timetable showing when it will be rolled out in different areas of the country.
If you are struggling financially, you can check your benefits entitlements quickly and easily using our Benefits Calculator. You can also use our Grants Search to see if you are eligible for help from a charitable fund, based on your personal circumstances and needs.
The Your Situation section on our website contains information resources on benefits and grants and a Find an Adviser tool to help you find face-to-face advice in your local area.
Source: The Guardian news article: Iain Duncan Smith refuses to set up freephone for families claiming benefits