THE UK Government has been accused of operating a “callous and indefensible policy,” whereby Universal Credit claimants who phone a Whitehall helpline are encouraged to use an online system regardless of their digital skills or access to the Internet.

The allegation has been made by Scottish Labour MP Danielle Rowley, who claimed the Department of Work and Pensions had tried to “fob off” her enquiries when she raised the issue with them.

But the accusation was strenuously denied by the department, which insisted claims there was a policy of trying to hurry claimants off the telephone line were “completely false”.

Ms Rowley, who represents Midlothian, called on Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary, to come clean as to why her department continued to deny the existence of a so-called “deflection script” for staff when callers use the Universal Credit helpline given official documents referred to it.

The Labour backbencher explained that in October a whistle-blower at the DWP's Grimsby call-centre told Sky News that such a script was used by Universal Credit helpline operators to redirect claimants onto its online system, regardless of their lack of digital skills or access to the Internet.

At the time, the whistle-blower’s claims were flatly denied by the DWP.

Ms Rowley said that in response to her Freedom of Information request the department said staff were given "supportive lines" but it declined to hand over all the documents she had requested.

However, since then the Scottish politician has been passed papers, which she insisted corroborated the use of the phrase "deflection script" and the policy of pushing callers online even if their enquiries could be easily dealt with over the phone.

"This proves that not only does the DWP operate a callous and indefensible policy of not helping sometimes desperate callers over the phone, it is prepared to mislead the public to try to hide it,” declared Ms Rowley.

"If the DWP can try and fob off my official enquiries and parliamentary questions in this way, it's hardly surprising claimants are being forced to jump through hoops.”

She added: “Labour has called for a root and branch review of Universal Credit but Amber Rudd must also come clean about practices like this and apologise to claimants and the brave whistle-blower, who has exposed this."

The documents, seen by Sky News, are said to reveal the deflection scripts were introduced in November 2016 to "support staff during telephone calls". But it is also suggested they were designed to reduce the level of calls to the helpline in a bid to get more people to use the service online.

One document says: "Encourage staff to ask what the claimant is calling for at the beginning of the call rather than moving straight to security questions. This may open up the opportunity to deflect the caller online."

Mark Serwotka for the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: "It is breath-taking ministers have been caught lying to the public about the existence of a so-called 'deflection script' for Universal Credit claimants.

"Our members would prefer to be given the resources and time to give a first-class service to help claimants. However, they are instructed to use this deflection script as a means to get people off the phones.

"It is another example of a government which has failed to invest in staff and support claimants. This is why Universal Credit must be scrapped and replaced with a system that supports those in need," he added.

A spokesman for the DWP strongly denied the claims, saying: "There has never been a policy to hurry callers off the phone and accusations that this is the case are completely false.

“Call handlers are encouraged to spend as much time as necessary on the phone and remind claimants that they are able to complete certain activities online where appropriate," he added.

Last month, Ms Rudd, who returned to Government as Work and Pensions Secretary in November, announced an overhaul to Universal Credit, saying the proposed system she had inherited was not as “compassionate” or “effective” as she had wanted.

The Secretary of State will delay asking MPs to approve the transfer of three million benefit claimants to Universal Credit and instead intends to move just 10,000 onto the system this summer as part of a trial to consider its effectiveness.

Elements of Universal Credit, which combines six benefits and tax credits into a single payment, have been opposed strongly by some Conservative MPs while Labour has called for the roll-out to be stopped.