‘Suicidal calls’ to tax credits firm highlights issue of employment counselling

News Article

Call handlers working for a government sub-contractor, which undertook tax credit payment reviews, had to deal with calls from "suicidal" clients, it has been alleged.

A whistleblower at Concentrix’s call centre, has told the BBC that most staff "weren’t even trained" to deal with such calls, claiming that staff were not offered counselling, but were instead told: "Have a smoke… you’ll be fine."

However, Concentrix has responded saying that, in the case of suicidal callers, staff were trained in accordance with government guidelines.

US-owned Concentrix was awarded the £75million contract by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), in a bid to help reduce tax credit fraud and overpayments, although it has recently learnt that its two-year contract will not be renewed when it expires in May 2017.

The whistleblower, who has spoken out about the experiences of staff at its call centre, revealed that many of the 600 workers were yelled at "every day" by clients.

"We were dealing with people claiming they were going to commit suicide," the whistleblower said. "You had to try and keep them on the phone, while a manager phoned the police to get out to their address to make sure that they were OK.

"Some of the [call centre workers] that were dealing with the suicide calls weren’t given the back-up, weren’t given aftercare by our aftercare team. Most of the people weren’t even trained in how to deal with a suicide call."

Concentrix staff received no "aftercare by our human resources team, or any sort of counselling, after a call", he claimed, adding: "They were just told, ‘Go out. Have a smoke. Come back. You’ll be fine. Deal with another 40 or 50 calls.’"

Charlotte Woolven Brown, an employment law expert with Palmers, said: “These allegations highlight the need for employers to have in place appropriate procedures to properly support staff who have to deal with emotionally stressful interactions.

“This particular case involved call staff who were required to deal with overwrought members of the public, but similar situations could crop up in other workplace conversations, for example between a manager and an employee during an appraisal or disciplinary review. It is important for businesses to have a recognised strategy and set out in writing what help is available to employees, who may benefit from either a de-brief or counselling following stressful workplace interactions.”

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