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News - Politics

The Government is charging people on benefits 55p a minute to call for help

Theresa May has been urged to ditch a government helpline that charges hard-up welfare claimants up to 55p-per-minute for help. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn turned up the pressure over the Government’s flagship welfare reform, urging the Prime Minister to “show some humanity” by making the helpline free for Universal Credit (UC) claimants.

Theresa May has been urged to ditch a government helpline that charges hard-up welfare claimants up to 55p-per-minute for help.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn turned up the pressure over the Government’s flagship welfare reform, urging the Prime Minister to “show some humanity” by making the helpline free for Universal Credit (UC) claimants.

The clash came during the first Prime Minister’s Questions since Ms May's chaotic party conference speech, where she was interrupted by a prankster clutching a P45 form and a collapsing set, while being plagued by a persistent cough.

The benefits overhaul has been met with growing opposition on the Tory benches over fears that desperate claimants could be waiting up to six weeks or longer for their initial payment while transferring over from the old system.

Mr Corbyn, who used five of his six questions to hone in on UC, said: “The Prime Minister talks about helping the poorest but the reality is a very, very different story.

“Not only are people being driven into poverty but absurdly 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.

“Will the Prime Minister today show some humanity, intervene and make at least the helpline free?”

Call charges advertised online show claimants could pay between 3p and 55p-a-minute to ring the helpline from a mobile and up to 9p-per-minute from a landline. The DWP said claimants can also request a call back or access up-to-date information online.

Ms May replied: “I’ve made very clear that we continue to look at how we are dealing with this and ensuring that we get this system out in a way that is actually working for people.

“The performance is increasing and it is working because more people are getting into work on UC than were on Job Seekers Allowance.”

The rollout of UC, which merges six benefits into a single payment, has presented a challenge for the Prime Minister amid reports as many as 25 Tory MPs could rebel on the issue.

Conservative backbencher Heidi Allen, an outspoken critic of the move, attracted cheers from the Labour benches when she challenged Ms May on the UC rollout.

She said: "I thank (Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke) on Monday for promising to advertise more widely that advances will be available to claimants.

"But there are many of us on this side of the House that feel more people taking those advances must surely mean the inbuilt six-week wait just doesn't work."

She asked to meet the Prime Minister to explain why reducing the six-week wait "will do a better job of supporting those just-about-managing families who are struggling to make ends meet and have no savings to cover them over that period".

Ms May said DWP officials were continuing to examine the performance and operation of UC.

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