Waiting-times faced by disabled people trying to use a benefit enquiry line are even higher than previously thought, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted.
Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last week that the “average speed of answer” for the personal independence payment (PIP) telephone enquiry line reached 38 minutes and 50 seconds in April.
It had risen from 23 minutes in January, to 31 minutes in February, and 37 minutes in March.
The figures were provided in response to a DNS freedom of information request.
But when Tom Pursglove, the minister for disabled people, was asked for these figures by Labour’s Jon Trickett, the figures he provided on 16 June were even higher.
They show that the waiting-times rose from 25 minutes in January, to nearly 35 minutes in February, 40 minutes in March, and as high as 44 minutes in April, before falling in May to nearly 41 minutes.
These are just average waiting-times, with many disabled people reporting far higher waits before they can speak to someone, while the Benefits and Work website has revealed that nearly half a million callers to the PIP helpline in April were deliberately disconnected by DWP before they could even join the queue to speak to an adviser.
The number of disconnections rose from 34,860 in February, to 306,865 in March and 494,044 in April.
Benefits and Work reported that the number of blocked calls in April was even greater than the number allowed to join the queue (388,265).
DWP told DNS this week that the waiting-times provided to Trickett were higher than those given to DNS because they did not include figures for the PIP mandatory reconsideration enquiry line.
Pursglove told Trickett that PIP had “experienced unprecedented levels of new claims from customers in recent months and, as a result, we have seen increased call traffic”.
He said: “We are currently in the process of recruiting additional resource into telephony, so that we can increase the number of calls answered and reduce current wait times.”
DWP’s figures show the rise in new PIP claims – under the normal rules procedure – in February, March and April 2023, compared with the same months in 2022, was just 8.4 per cent.
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