Universal Credit agents were pressured to get claimants ‘off the phone’

A former DWP call centre employee has told Sky News that bosses advised him to use a "deflection script" for Universal Credit claimants

As Britain’s controversial rollout of Universal Credit hits further roadblocks, including delays and increased criticism from MPs, telephone agents who were employed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claim they were encouraged by bosses to deflect claimants phone calls, getting them off the phone “as quickly as possible”.

In a report published by Sky News, written by former DWP call centre employee Bayard Tarpley, the DWP is accused of using call centre practices that made claimants efforts to sign up to Universal Credit incredibly difficult.

“We were told to discourage claimants from calling and instead redirect them to the website, even when they told us they could not use the internet,” Tarpley claims. “But in effect this just created even more problems, and these people, who I found where often the most vulnerable claimants, ended up being punished because they missed payments.”

Fundamentally broken

The so-called “deflection script” used by the telephone agents means that Universal Credit’s front line processes for dealing with claimants are “fundamentally broken”, argues Tarpley, who said that the “IT system is unable to cope with the complexities, and it is built in a way that it evades criticism”.

Tarpley, who left the DWP in July 2018 after working at its call centre in Grimsby, said that one mentor advised him to close a claim immediately if a claimant fails to book an evidence appointment within a month of the claim. Another mentor, alleges Tarpley, advised claimants should only get a day to call in.

“These sound like small issues, but these can have a hugely different outcomes and can add weeks to the payment process, forcing claimants into debt, behind on their rent and the need to use food banks,” he wrote in the Sky News report. “The rules around payments were interpreted differently by different agents, with some teams making different decisions, and different service centres appearing to have vastly different processes.”

Earlier in October, the BBC revealed that the rollout of Universal Credit has been pushed back, with large-scale movement of claimants onto the system now not set to begin until at least November 2020. Today, the Commons Public Accounts Committee found that the DWP is failing claimants and risking the entire rollout of Universal Credit with a “fortress mentality” that’s causing “unacceptable hardship”.

The report concludes that the DWP’s dismissive attitude to real-world experiences is letting down those who want to sign up to Universal Credit, and the delay to the roll-out is not a solution.

“This report provides further damning evidence of a culture of indifference at DWP – a Department disturbingly adrift from the real-world problems of the people it is there to support,” said Public Accounts Committee Chair Meg Millier MP. “Its apparent determination to turn a deaf ear to the concerns of claimants, frontline organisations and Parliament is of real concern. The culture needs to change.

“We will be watching Monday’s Budget carefully and, in its formal response to this report, expect Government to take meaningful action on our recommendations.”

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