An Afghan man living in Dundee trying to arrange re-settlement for his family stuck in the country had his call diverted to a washing-machine repair shop in Coventry after using an official Home Office number which did not work.
The man, who does not wish to be identified as his family attempt to flee the Taliban, contacted Dundee West MP Chris Law for help.
He was directed to the Home Office number for non-UK nationals trying to arrange passage, and was left distressed after repeatedly being put through to the Coventry store.
On repeated rings, the man was diverted to an answering machine for the hardware company Wilko.
It is understood the Home Office is blaming a technical glitch for the problem.
The number was advertised on the Home Office Twitter page last week, and was supposed to turn into a 24/7 dedicated service from Monday.
Yesterday a new UK Government helpline for non-British nationals in Afghanistan went live to provide assistance to vulnerable people in the country ⤵️
— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) August 21, 2021
A spokesperson for Wilko said: “We’re very sorry the person was unable to get through to the correct helpline.
“The number in the Tweet isn’t the one for our Coventry store and so there must have been a crossed wire somewhere.
“The issue appears to have been sorted out now so we hope anyone who’s trying to get through doesn’t have the same problem.”
Chris Law, MP for Dundee West, said: “Like many Members of Parliament, I am currently assisting constituents who have family at risk from the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“The Home Office has advertised this helpline for around a week now as being a vital point of contact for those who have family trapped in the country.
“When my constituent attempted to phone the Home Office using the supplied number this morning, he was instead directed to an answering machine for a washing machine repair company in Coventry.
“It appears the line is up and running now but I dread to think how many people may have been unable to reach the Home Office due to this fault.
“Sadly, many have nowhere else to turn for help and support. The Home Office must ensure this doesn’t happen again and that people can get through quickly.
“This is yet more evidence of the lack of planning and preparedness at the very core of the UK Government’s disastrous response to this crisis. They must get their act together – thousands of vulnerable people are depending on it.”
Urgent calls only
A Government spokesperson said: “The new Afghanistan Helpline is up and running and dedicated Home Office civil servants have taken the details of more than 20,000 people.
“We would urge people to not call the line to chase for updates as this is causing further delays.”