Departmental Telephone Services

Work and Pensions written question – answered on 21st June 2011.

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Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the average cost to benefit claimants of using 0845 numbers to contact his Department and its agencies in the latest period for which figures are available.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) uses both 0800 and 0845 telephone numbers. DWP uses 0845 telephone numbers for calls that are typically short, for example when making an inquiry about benefits.

The Department is undertaking an internal review as to its use of 0845 numbers.

The Department provides “Customer Access Phones” (CAP) in a large number of our Jobcentre Plus offices where customers can make or inquire about benefit claims and they do not have to pay when using these facilities. The Department also encourages its customers to use online facilities as an alternative to calling its 0800 and 0845 services. Where a customer calling our 0800 or 0845 services asks us, or raises concerns over the cost of the call, we will offer to call them back.

It is difficult to gauge how much the average cost to access our 0845 services will be, as some customers may not pay anything to access our services throughout their claim. There is no way of identifying which of our customers pay to use our services and customers will be charged at different rates, depending on their landline or mobile operator.

At appendix 1 is the average speed of answer and average call duration figures, which will show how long customers were on the telephone. The costs shown are basic BT call prices, but a full list of telephone provider call charges have also been provided as follows:

Appendix 1: Jobcentre Plus
Average speed of answer Average call duration Total c all time Cost at 4p per min plus set up cost of 3p (£)
JSA Inquires 00:02:15 00:03:34 05:49 0.26
IS Inquires 00:01:36 00:03:05 04:41 0.22
IB Inquires 00:00:48 00:02:59 03:47 0.18
JSA, IS and IB Welsh 00:00:02 00:03:02 03:04 0.15
ESA Inquiries 00:02:42 00:04:00 06:42 0.30
IB/IS Reassessment 00:00:54 00:04:24 05:18 0.24
ESA Inquiries and IB/IS Reassessment Welsh 00:00:02 00:03:13 03:15 0.16
Inquire 00:01:17 00:04:25 05:42 0.26
Social Fund 00:01:45 00:02:33 04:18 0.20

In addition to these calls to Jobcentre Plus, calls to a customer's local jobcentre are handled via our outsourced provider, Balfour Beatty Workplace using 0845 numbers. Limitations with the telephony system used mean that they are unable to provide the average cost to customers of making these calls.

Pensions Disability and Carers Service
Average speed of answer Average call duration Total call time Cost at 4p per min plus set up cost of 3p (£)
International Pension Centre 00:00:46 00:05:03 05:49 0.26
Future Pension Centre 00:00:09 00:04:56 05:05 0.23
Pension Tracing Service 00:00:05 00:03:01 03:06 0.15
General Inquiry Line 00:00:45 00:05:32 06:17 0.28
National Pension Centre (Pensions Direct) 00:00:36 00:04:00 04:36 0.21
Note : Call duration times for the Carers Allowance Unit Contact Centre and Disability Living Allowance/Attendance Allowance Helpline are not available because these units do not record this information. We can, however, provide the Average Call Handling Time. Source: Department for Work and Pensions Operational Management Information System (OPMIS)

The full list of telephone provider call charges has been placed in the Library.

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David Hickson - fair telecoms campaign
Posted on 23 Jun 2011 6:36 am (Report this annotation)

The work being done by Mr Grayling's officials needs to be sharpened up if it is not to repeat errors made previously, when the review group reports to the Minister.

The arguments for a switch to 03 numbers are overwhelming. Poor data analysis has been used previously and appears to be in place still. Firstly this has suggested a false basis for a determination, and then the determination has been distorted by the application of false assumptions.

The information deposited in the library is published at this link -

This is a slightly updated (August 2010) version of a spreadsheet workbook that has been seen in various forms over a long period.

Legacy regulation on some of BT's rates still creates some perverse effects with the relative cost of calling 0845 numbers - however this regulation is due to be lifted shortly. For most BT callers there is no additional charge for calling 0845 numbers. This is because BT alone is prohibited from making any money as the originator of 0845 calls - all of the charge is passed on as revenue share. This makes it possible for BT to include 0845 calls in some of its packages, without placing too great a burden on the price of the package, as it has no margin to sacrifice.

The notable exception applies to users of the "BT Basic" package, a "social tariff" only available to those in receipt of certain long term DWP benefits. For them, calls to 03 or geographic numbers are included in their package, whereas calls to 0845 numbers (e.g. to enquire about their benefits) are NOT INCLUDED!

These are the costs given in the written answer - they need to be set against a charge of ZERO for a call to a 01/02/03 number. N.B. These are the "BT Basic" rates, not the basic rates available to all BT customers, as may be implied by the wording of the answer.

All contract telephone services (landline and mobile) are now based on call packages, providing calls to 01/02/03 numbers at no call charge.

BT is believed to originate 28% of calls to DWP (40% of the 70% of calls from landlines). This includes "BT Basic" users and those who do not pay a premium to call 0845 numbers.

The current rates for 0845 calls from other commonly used providers, as against the cost of a call to a 01/02/03 number are as follows.

Other landline providers (42% of calls):
Virgin Media - 11.24p + 10.22p per minute vs. 0
Talk Talk - included; no charge 0 vs. 0
Sky Talk - 12.5p + 6.13p per minute vs. 0

Contract Mobile providers (21.5% of calls):
Vodafone - 21p per minute vs. 0
Orange - 20.4p per minute vs. 0
O2 - 20.4p per minute vs. 0
T-Mobile - 41p per minute vs. 0
3 - 35p per minute vs. 0

PAYG Mobile providers (8.5% of calls):
Vodafone - 25 ppm vs. 21 ppm
Orange - 40ppm vs. 20 ppm
O2 - 25ppm vs 15ppm
T-Mobile - 40 ppm vs 30ppm
3 - 35 ppm vs. 26ppm

These figures are essentially as published by DWP, although updated to reflect current tariffs. The call shares are also updated to reflect the latest OFCOM figures.

There is one major error in the assumptions applied and recorded in the DWP workbook (as "Analysis"!).

The majority of the population who are out at work during the day would not be expected to subscribe to a landline call plan designed to include weekday daytime calls. This is reflected in the general percentage take up of these packages. The DWP has assumed that the same proportion applies to those claiming DWP benefits, i.e. it assumes that they are just as likely to be out at work all day everyday as anyone else.

It therefore bases its conclusions on the assumption that a significant proportion of its landline callers would incur penalty charges for making weekday daytime calls to geographic rate numbers because they have selected an evenings / weekends only Call Plan!

For some reason the only costs shown for contract mobile users are for "out of package" calls - i.e. for those who have chosen a package without voice calls - e.g. text and data only.

It can be of little surprise that previous internal reviews have come up with the wrong conclusion by failing to recommend an immediate switch to 03 numbers.

The fact that the Department itself gains a subsidy of around 2p per minute on every incoming call, towards the cost of its telephony, because it is using revenue sharing 0845 numbers, could also be relevant.

It is noteworthy that Mr Grayling is prepared to refer to the fact that "customers pay to use our services". The charge is collected through their telephone bill and credited against that of the Department, but this in no way diminishes the fact that DWP claimants pay the Department when making enquiries.

It can also be seen that the telephone companies take their own (often generous) slice out of the additional money collected when this mechanism is engaged.

The fundamental policy error is in the approach of playing off those who pay to access DWP services against those who do not. I cannot myself see how the fact that one claimant may avoid incurring a charge provides a justification for a charge being knowingly, if indirectly, imposed on another claimant.