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.”
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.”