It was revealed that over one third of phone calls made by UK citizens to select Government departments have been charged high rates. Over 100 million phone calls made to these departments have been charged a premium rate.
A committee of a number of Members of Parliament have reported that this has cost the public over 55 million GBP. These calls were attempting to contact a number of departments such as the HM Revenue and Customs and the Department of Work and Pensions.
The report continues to explain how, in addition to expensive costs, these phone calls were not responded to in a timely manner, adding further costs to the citizens.
This is due to the fact that Government helplines do not have a target response time even though normal industry lines have at least 80% of phone calls attended to in a maximum of 20 second wait time.
The HMRC has come under heavy criticism as the report indicates that the average wait time to reach a representative took no less than 7 minutes. In addition, only 16% of phone calls concerning tax credits were responded to at all.
The chairwoman of this committee, Margaret Hodge, explains, “Performance by departments varies but is often astonishingly bad. HMRC managed to answer only 16% of the calls it received on its tax credits helpline on the deadline day for notifying the department of changes of circumstances. Citizens should not as a matter of principle have to put up with standards of service from government which are significantly worse than industry standards.”
She continued by saying, “Customers spent an estimated £56m on calls using higher rate numbers, from the lines run by the Department for Work and Pensions, to helplines for victim support and the Bereavement Service and the inquiries and complaints line of the Student Loans Company.”
This has caused particular outrage due to the fact that many of these departments are hotlines for those in difficult financial circumstances and some are even victim helplines.
A consumer organization, Which?, have demanded that government phone calls are free of charge to the public and in the worst case, they should only charge local rates.
Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said, “The Cabinet Office must now act fast to ensure the government and public bodies lead by example and put an end to costly calls.”
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