VAT windfall on government phone lines

25 April 2017

The last scheduled debate of this Parliament will be an ‘adjournment debate’ on Thursday 27 April to discuss the cost of telephone calls to the Department of Work and Pensions and other advice lines by government departments.

Whilst calls to 0800 numbers are free, follow-up calls, and calls to some departments direct are to 0300 or 0345 numbers, with calls to these costing up to 55 pence per minute when using mobile phones.

Last year, in answer to a parliamentary written question, a minister at the DWP claimed that the average length of a call to the universal credit helpline is seven minutes and 29 seconds

Although the PIP enquiry line is generally answered straight away, when the call is answered, the recorded message lasts for one minute and 12 seconds before the caller can even choose an option.

When previously challenged to change all such calls to a free 0800 number, the DWP claimed that it would cost £7 million pound to do so, and pointed out that online access is widely available through the network of jobcentres. But with the proposed closure programme for the DWP estate, it seems likely that the use of mobiles in the roll-out of universal credit is set to continue.

The government does not receive any of the income from telephone providers, and we’ve no idea how much income the mobile operators receive as a result of consumers calling government departments.

It is however estimated that up to a third of the profit goes back to the government in ‘additional services’; and it is a fact that one-sixth of all income received by the mobile operators from consumers is paid over to the government in VAT.

As the last debate, on the last day, the likelihood is that Parliament may prorogue before the debate; merely as a result of time constraints and nothing to do with any VAT windfall the government receives from departmental contact numbers.

For more information please get in touch with David Wilson, or your usual RSM contact.