“There is something called the deflection script. It was a piece of paper that explains what to do when someone calls in. Even if a problem could be solved then and there on the phone we were encouraged to do everything in our power to get them to hang up the phone and do that online.”
Those are the words of a former Universal Credit call handler named Bayard Tarpley. Here he is in the Sky News report that broke the latest scandal around the Tory government’s excuse for a benefit system:
Leann Bailey: Dad took his own life on the day of a UC appt because of pressure & distress he was put under by DWP. pic.twitter.com/RY5X0E4BoP
— I was a JSA claimant (@imajsaclaimant) October 25, 2018
The Department for Work and Pensions has said claims of a “deflection” script were “completely false” but added that when handling a query, call agents may use “aides” (because they can’t spell “aids”) to help effectively process cases, including directing claimants online in relation to their claim.
But This Writer has witnessed the deflection script in action.
At least, I think I have. A friend of mine called at Vox Towers on Wednesday, having just been to the Job Centre. He said he had been misled by his landlord, who had told him verbally that his rent was £320/month when it was actually £80/week (apparently the young lady who provided this false information thinks every month is February). He had, therefore, found himself several hundred pounds in arrears with nothing left for life’s essentials once he paid it off (as he is very low-paid).
He had contacted the Job Centre and was told to bring a particular set of documents in for copying – which seemed strange to him as he had already provided those documents quite recently – and, sure enough, when he got there, the advisor asked why he had bothered to bring them and told him to phone the 0800 number (he doesn’t get on with computers).
My friend had dialled the number on his mobile outside the JCP door, and had been listening to the same short clip from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons ever since, interspersed with the same recorded message saying that all call handlers were busy and he could wait – or call back another time (perhaps an attempt to get him off the phone).
After about half an hour or 40 minutes of this, he was connected to an automated system that asked for a few personal details (and got them wrong several times when repeating them back), and inquired as to the purpose of the call. Then he was put through to a human being and I left him alone to get on with it while I made a cup of tea.
He was finished before I’d finished boiling the kettle! “B*****d hung up on me! He told me he didn’t deal with it!”
And whoever it was hadn’t bothered even pretending to put him through to the right person.
So, it was back to the 0800 number (which turned out to be the wrong one – although only time will tell if the number he was given will prove correct) and another, even longer, wait. I thought we were going to spend all Four Seasons waiting for an answer.
To cut a long story short, my friend still doesn’t know if he’s going to get any financial help (it would be an advance on his benefit payment, that he would have to pay back in instalments over time). He doesn’t know when he is likely to be paid if he does get an award. And he doesn’t know if the telephone number given to him to check these details is the right one.
And it took him an entire afternoon – although only around 10 minutes on the telephone – to find out that he wouldn’t be told any of these things.
That’s Universal Credit for you. And I reckon that’s how the deflection script works.