Hartlepool anger as scores of Universal Credit claimants complain about official helpline
An MP has told how scores of constituents have complained to him about the Universal Credit official helpline.
Mike Hill was speaking after an investigation by the Mail and parent company JPIMedia revealed that 559,613 calls to the Department for Works and Pensions' (DWP) freephone number were abandoned without claimants getting through.
The nationwide figure for the first quarter of this year is already 230,000 higher than for the whole of 2017.
Our investigation also revealed that helpline queries about Universal Credit - which lumps individual benefits into one monthly payment - rated lower than those for nine other benefits.
With all applications having to be made online, Mr Hill said the DWP should consider the return of paper forms.
He said: "We have had scores of people complaining to us about the Universal Credit helpline and the information they receive if they do get through.
"A lot of the time they are trying to get information about the online application.
Related content: Your Universal Credit questions answered
"Not everyone has access to or is comfortable with digital technology and nor should they have to be.
"Universal Credit is not just for young people and so they should consider the paper option."
The 559,613 figure released to the Mail through a Freedom of Information request to the DWP means that one in roughly every eight calls went unanswered out of a 4,256,313 total.
A DWP spokesman said: “Since January this year we have answered almost 3.7m calls to the helpline and latest figures show that people wait less than three minutes on average before their call is answered.
“We regularly review our staffing levels to ensure we have the right number of people available to answer calls, and we reallocate resource where necessary.”
Mr Hill has also praised the work of Hartlepool Foodbank after it was revealed that the number of people using the Church Street "lifeline" has increased by nearly a fifth by the end of 2018.
He said: "The foodbank and others like it in Hartlepool, and all the other agencies in Hartlepool who help people on Universal Credit, do a tremendous job.
"Without them, because of the affect of Universal Credit, people and their families might not be able to survive."
*The official helpline number is 0800 328 5644.