Universal credit: Plaid Cymru offers to pay for claimants’ calls

A person on a mobile phone

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Plaid Cymru has called for the “despicable” helpline charges to be scrapped

People claiming universal credit have been offered free use of Plaid Cymru phones to avoid helpline charges.

MPs Hywel Williams and Liz Saville Roberts said charging “people who are broke” 55p a minute to find out the status of their claim was “absurd”.

The party said all Plaid politicians would let claimants make the calls from their constituency offices.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said people concerned about the cost could request a free call back.

Opposition parties and some Tory backbenchers have urged a pause in the nationwide rollout of universal credit – which replaces a range of benefits for working-age people – because of concerns over delays in claimants receiving their money.

Media captionJeremy Corbyn: “The PM talks about helping the poorest, but the reality is a very, very different story”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tackled Theresa May on the issue of the 0345 helpline at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, saying it was costing some of the nation’s poorest people 55p a minute to call on a mobile phone.

In a joint statement, Plaid MPs Mr Williams and Ms Saville Roberts said it was “shocking that those trying to claim universal credit face being charged for the privilege of simply speaking to someone about their claim”.

“Notwithstanding the barriers already faced by many claimants, such as spiralling debts, homelessness and evictions, charging people who are broke to find out the status of their claim is absurd,” they said.

“Also, it is usually poorer households who are least likely to have reliable access to the internet, so the high cost of calling about universal credit is likely to hit them hardest.”

“I hope they will drop this outrageous charge as soon as possible.”

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Universal credit replaces a range of benefits for people in work or unemployed

Mr Williams – MP for Arfon – and Ms Saville Roberts in Dwyfor Meirionnydd have said constituents can visit their offices in Caernarfon and Dolgellau respectively and use their phones free of charge.

On Friday, Plaid Cymru said all its politicians would allow claimants to make such calls from their constituency offices.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Applications for universal credit are made online and claimants then arrange their first appointment with their work coach over the phone.

“This call is charged at local rates which are set by providers and are free for many people as part of their call package.

“If someone is concerned about the cost, they can request a free call back.”

Universal credit: Plaid Cymru offers to pay for claimants’ calls}

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