The great paper chase

The struggles claimants face in their dealings with the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) new system of “tele-claiming” are well known. In particular, income support claims for people who are incapable of work are increasingly directed to a remote call centre to lodge and then complete their claim over the phone. For many claimants this has been unsatisfactory; even if the telephones and computers work well (which they often don’t), people who have trouble articulating their needs are disadvantaged.

But at least claimants and support workers had another option: they could download an income support claim form from the DWP’s website, then complete and submit it in the old-fashioned way. The DWP wasn’t keen on that, of course, because it messed up its system, and some local offices even insisted, wrongly, that paper claims were illegal. 

So the DWP has responded to this rather more client-centred approach by deleting the claim form from the public pages of its website. Its justifications for doing so are almost breathtaking in their audacity. For example, it claims that people on income support may not have access to a computer or could not afford to run off a 50-page claim form. These are presumably the same claimants who can afford the calls to the call centre to lodge their claims – and then chase them up daily. If the DWP were that concerned about the cost of reaching its services, it would introduce a freephone number.

And if government services for people on a low income are to be excluded from the internet, where does that leave their strategy of 100 per cent electronic delivery?

It also ignores the fact that the internet version of the claim form was of great use to advice agencies, which are often prevented from getting claim forms any other way. Admittedly, it was inconvenient to have to download the form, but it was often better than subjecting the client to the random vagaries of the call centre. Fortunately, the form is still available on the part of the DWP website that is aimed at advice agencies – – but I bet it will be gone soon. You might also visit to request that the A1 form be returned to the public domain.

The DWP claimed the online information about downloading a claim form may have been misleading because it could have been read as implying that the customer could complete it online. I think that improving the information may have been a better solution than deleting the form.

The DWP’s final get-out was that advice organisations can order bulk copies of income support claim packs free, so we could pass them on to claimants. I suggest that whoever made that comment should contact the DWP as a mystery shopper and ask to be sent a single income support claim form, let alone bulk supplies.

It is unlawful for the DWP to refuse to accept paper claim forms. And it cannot repeal the legislation that allows paper claim forms, because the DWP has to use them itself when its telephone-based system crashes. If the DWP is serious about being a customer-focused service, it must take account of the difficulties faced by some of its more vulnerable customers.

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a question to be answered please write to him c/o Community Care

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