Call for government helplines to be freeLib Dem leader says benefit calls cost on mobiles
06 March 2008
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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