More than a million calls to the Universal Credit helpline were abandoned before being answered last year, figures reveal.
Some 1,300,698 calls were dropped before an advisor picked up between September 2016 and October 2017.
The average length of abandoned calls was five minutes and 19 seconds, the government said in response to a ministerial question.
During the period to which the figures relate, calls to the 0345 helpline were charged at a rate of up to 55p a minute for some users.
While 0345 numbers are free for many landline and mobile contract customers, they carry a charge on some pay as you go tariffs.
Universal Credit claimants told HuffPost UK last year how the cost of calling the helpline racked up as they tried to manage complex claims.
The cost of calls to the helpline sparked controversy in September after a Commons showdown at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Theresa May was challenged by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to scrap the charge entirely, a move the government initially resisted.
But the fee was eventually scrapped after a climbdown by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officials who conceded that claimants did, in fact, need to use the phone line to undertake certain tasks.
The move came after HuffPost UK confronted the DWP with detailed accounts of hardship from those forced to use the helpline.
We reported previously on the long wait endured by claimants before advisors responded, revealing how the cost of calls could have been as much as 11 percent of someone’s weekly Universal Credit allowance.
‘No cost to public purse’
Labour MP Jim McMahon asked the government to provide the figures and explain whether there was a cost to the public purse for abandoned calls.
Damian Hinds, who was until this week’s reshuffle a DWP minister, responded to McMahon on Monday saying there was no cost to taxpayers.
Hinds, who is now Education Secretary, said: “Universal Credit Full Service is a digital service designed to enable customers to manage their own data and account online at a time which is convenient for them.
“As well as giving them access to online statements for payment information, and their journal for interacting with their dedicated Case Manager and Work Coach, customers are able to report changes online when they would previously have called us.”
He added: “There was no cost to the public purse for abandoned calls as this forms part of the contract we have with BT, and following the introduction of the free phone numbers to Universal Credit helplines in November 2017 there will no longer be a cost to the customer.”