Waiting-times on a benefit enquiry line have continued to rise, despite the minister for disabled people promising that his department was recruiting extra staff to bring them down.
In April, Tom Pursglove (pictured) admitted that the average waiting time in March for the personal independence payment (PIP) telephone enquiry line was 37 minutes.
He told Labour’s Beth Winter on 26 April that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was “currently experiencing higher than forecast call volumes to the PIP and DLA telephony enquiry lines” and had “recruited additional staff onto our telephony teams”, while there was “on-going recruitment to further increase resources”.
But Disability News Service has secured new figures from DWP which show that waiting-times have continued to rise.
In January, the “average speed of answer” was 23 minutes; in February, it rose to 31 minutes; and in March, it increased to 37 minutes and one second, before increasing by nearly two minutes in April, to 38 minutes and 50 seconds.
These are just average waiting-times, so many claimants will have experienced much longer waits.
DNS reported last month how disabled people were describing “disgraceful” and stressful waiting-times on the PIP enquiry line.
They described how they were facing “exhausting” waits that were more than twice as long as the average figures quoted by Pursglove in parliament, and were also having to cope with malfunctioning software that cut them off as they tried to navigate DWP’s automated voice-response technology.
One disabled woman said she was on hold for about 80 minutes while she waited for a conversation about her PIP claim that lasted just three minutes.
Another said she had had to wait as long as 90 minutes to speak to a DWP adviser.
Waiting-times for the employment and support allowance enquiry line have also continued to increase, and are now more than double where they were six months ago, according to the new DWP figures, although they are still at a much lower level than PIP waiting-times.
In November 2022, the average speed of answer on the ESA enquiry line was more than six minutes, rising to eight minutes in January, 13 minutes in March, and more than 14 minutes in April.
Asked if Pursglove was concerned that waiting-times, particularly on the PIP line, were continuing to rise, and why his efforts to address the increases did not appear to be working, a DWP spokesperson refused to comment.
This is now the third time the department has refused to comment about the PIP telephone enquiry line waiting-times.
Instead, DWP offered a near-identical statement to the one released a month ago, which again did not refer to telephone waiting-times.
The spokesperson said: “Reducing customer journey times is a priority for the department and we are making constant improvements to our service, including expanding dedicated teams and using telephone and video appointments to make the process faster and to deliver a more efficient, user-centred service.”
Meanwhile, the Benefits and Work website has published figures obtained from DWP via a freedom of information request which show nearly half a million callers to the PIP helpline in April were deliberately disconnected by the department before they could even wait in a queue.
Benefits and Work said in its report: “The proportion of calls cut-off before entering the queue is now greater than the proportion who even get to wait for an hour or more before giving up or getting disconnected.”
It added: “The worry is that the DWP is now in a downward spiral of increasingly awful customer service.”
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