Government helplines should be free to call from mobile phones, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has said amid evidence making a claim costs some people more than a week’s benefit.
Party research found up to £400 million a year was being spent on calls to ‘free’ numbers operated for the Department for Work and Pensions – which charge for calls from mobiles.
Around one in four people earning under £11,500 had no access to a landline, it found, meaning 2 million were forced to pay out to access the vital services.
Mr Clegg called for action as he launched a campaign against the increased government use of call centres which he said was creating a ‘faceless Britain’.
He has met with mobile phone companies, Citizens Advice and telecoms regulator Ofcom in a bid to find ways to end charging for such calls.
‘More and more services that used to offer face-to-face contact are being replaced by remote and inhuman call centres leaving consumers paying the price,’ he said.
Mr Clegg added: ‘We are witnessing the progression of an unaccountable state, creating increasingly remote services divorced from the people they are supposed to serve.
‘So-called “freephone” or local numbers are a prohibitively expensive option for the millions of callers who are reliant on mobile phones.
‘Amid soaring tariffs and restrictive call packages, people who can’t afford a landline often find themselves being charged more than a week’s Jobseeker’s Allowance just to make a claim for the benefits owed to them.’
The party’s research found making a benefit claims could cost up to £36 – more than a 16-17 year old gets in Jobseeker’s Allowance a week and more than half the weekly payment to the over-25s.
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