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119m calls ditched, say Lib Dems

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More than a third of calls to UK Government helplines fail to connect, according to information obtained by the Liberal Democrats.

It shows that since the beginning of 2003, more than 119m calls to Government departments about pensions, taxes and benefits ended in failure with callers either getting an engaged tone or abandoning the call because they had to wait too long. The worst offenders were the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HM Revenue and Customs.

The Lib Dems warned that the real number of call failures could be much worse since many departments fail to keep up-to-date records.

The Government has introduced a host of e-government proposals in a bid to make it easier for people to contact government departments.

But according to Lib Dem Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, David Laws, the Government's direct line to the public is "failing".

"Over 119m phone calls from the public have been missed since 2003 - a colossal waste of people's time and an enormous frustration. Over one in three people calling Government helplines are receiving engaged tones or abandoning calls when they should be able to speak to an adviser...Most of the missed calls are to the tax credits hotline and to the benefits department. Because of Labour's reliance on means-testing, more and more people are having to phone in information, or check why their complex awards are going wrong. These calls are overloading the system, which is quite simply breaking down."

Earlier this week the DWP announced it was "realigning existing contracts" with BT to provide the department with a "modernised communications network to provide customers with a more reliable, better performing service".

"Over the next five and a half years, the department will be spending around £870m including VAT on services delivered by BT," said the DWP in a statement. "This will enable the department to modernise its infrastructure to improve services for customers who are often the most vulnerable in society." ®

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