Duty to make support available for digitally excluded people

Part of Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 23rd July 2019.

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Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown 9:45 am, 23rd July 2019

We’ve all experienced it haven’t we? We have all phoned up a Government helpline, waiting hours on hold while listening to crummy music. When we see our phone bill afterwards, it is in the tens, hundreds, or—for one of my constituents who has used immigration helplines—thousands of pounds, when all we are trying to do is access Government services. We have had numerous scandals in the past, including universal credit helplines charging extortionate amounts.

I am sure that, in a moment, the Minister will say that he does not want to tie the hands of the new-spangled committee that he is setting up, the truth is that committees and processes have time and again failed the poorest in this country. Those committees have failed them because they are populated by people who think it is not a problem to spend a few pounds on a telephone line, or who have an all-inclusive package. They very often do not understand the day-to-day concerns of our poorest constituents. I am not making a presumption about who will make up the committee, but looking at what has happened in the past with numerous telephone helplines.

An amendment that includes a provision for free access to telephone help and support, but is not limited to that—one that also ensures a telephone cannot be the only method of non-digital engagement—is important. It is important because, in the past, we have seen similar processes fail and our constituents charged extortionately. I therefore support the amendment.