Universal Credit 55p-a-minute hotline is scrapped in major UK Govt U-turn
Calls to Universal Credit and other DWP helplines will be free, announces David Gauke amid pressure from Labour, SNP and Tory backbenches
David Gauke - PA
Charges to call the Universal Credit hotline will be scrapped from next month in a major climbdown by the Government in the face of a mounting Tory rebellion.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for the charges - which can cost up to 55p a minute from a mobile phone and up to 9p a minute from a landline - to be ditched at Prime Minister's Questions a week ago.
But the Government refused, insisting instead that the Department for Work and Pensions could call claimants back if they said they could not afford the bill.
In a dramatic move this morning, Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke announced that the 0345 number will be free before the end of the year.
"Contrary to some reports, these are not premium lines, DWP does not make a profit from these lines,” Gauke told the Work and Pensions Committee.
“Nonetheless, given the recent attention and concern that this could place a burden on claimants I have decided that this will change to a freephone number over the next month.”
He added: "It’s been DWP’s longstanding position to operate local line charges for DWP enquiry lines but having reviewed this matter more widely I will be extending the freephone numbers to all the DWP phone lines by the end of the year."
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams said: "The Conservatives have finally listened to Labour and scrapped the premium phone helpline for claimants, now they need to listen to the calls of charities and councils and back Labour's motion today to immediately pause and fix the roll out of Universal Credit, before more people are pushed into rent arrears, poverty and homelessness."
The SNP has campaigned on the issue, led by Glasgow South West MP Chris Stephens.
The climbdown comes as May faces a Commons rebellion as Tory backbenchers consider backing Labour plans to pause the rollout of the new Universal Credit system.
Tory MPs reportedly failed to secure concessions on their concerns, with parliamentarians set to vote on a Labour motion that would pause its implementation.
At PMQs last week Mr Corbyn argued claimants were being “driven into poverty” by the new Universal Credit system.
“The prime minister talks about helping the poorest, but the reality is a very different story,” he said.
“Will the Prime Minister today show some humanity intervene and make at least he helpline free?”
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