The government announced today that it would make calls to the universal credit helpline free from November.
It’s been widely hailed as a victory for Jeremy Corbyn, after he grilled Theresa May on the issue at last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions.
Mr Corbyn told the Commons that:
“the universal credit helpline costs claimants 55p per minute for the privilege of trying to get someone to help them claim what they believe they are entitled to”
That’s because the helpline is an 0345 number, which can charge between 9p and 55p per minute.
But as twitter user @dizzy_thinks pointed out to us last week, OfCom says that “Calls from landlines and mobiles [to numbers beginning 03] are included in free call packages.”
In other words, there will be many people who can actually call the helpline for free.
Are people on the cheapest phone tariffs actually paying 55p a minute?
We’ll assume that claiming universal credit are likely to be on on pay-as-you-go or the cheapest contracts (lowest upfront and monthly costs).
The data below is based on the cheapest contracts we could find from the UK’s four biggest phone providers (plus pay-as-you-go specialist GiffGaff):
In all contracts, calls to 03 numbers are included in free minutes allowances, and charges are only incurred if you exceed those limits. Customers on some tariffs will be charged 55p in that situation.
The highest pay-as-you-go charge that we’ve found from these providers was 30p per minute for a call to an 03 number. The lowest was 5p per minute.
This is not a comprehensive survey of every phone contract or pay-as-you-go deal in the UK – there may well be some tariffs and providers that do charge 55p a minute for calls.
But it does suggest that it’s unlikely that the average universal credit claimant would pay as much as 55p per minute to call the universal credit helpline – despite what Mr Corbyn suggested.
The Department for Work and Pensions wasn’t getting any money from the helpline anyway
A FactCheck freedom of information request found that “The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) does not receive any payments or income from calls to its customer enquiry telephone numbers”.
We asked DWP to clarify where money from phone charges does actually go when they are levied on customers. We’ll update this article if they provide an answer.