STAFF at Bolton's Universal Credit benefits call centre are being told not to tell claimants about emergency funds they may be entitled to, an undercover investigation has found.

In one case, undercover filming revealed a trainer likening parts of the benefits system to Fight Club — saying "we don't discuss it".

The Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) Universal Credit computer system also crashed nine times in just 20 days, the investigation revealed.

The revelations were made after a reporter for Channel 4’s Dispatches spent seven weeks working as a Universal Credit telephone agent trainee at the DWP Universal Credit call centre in Bolton.

The reporter, who was tasked with giving claimants "sound advice", was told not to volunteer information about a same-day advance payment that is available to people who are struggling with delays to the first Universal Credit payment, which takes five weeks to arrive.

It costs 1p to process a five-day payment but about £6 to process a same-day payment, the reporter was told.

Unless they were asked for it, staff were also told not to promote a "flexible support fund" that is available for claimants who need money to buy clothes or bus fares to help them into work.

A trainer told the reporter: “If we did, everybody would want one, yeah, and it’s a very small budget so we don’t talk about it. It’s a bit like Fight Club — we don’t discuss what happens in Fight Club.”

The reporter was also told that hardship-fund payments should only be offered to claimants who have been sanctioned — ie those who are not fulfilling all the requirements they need to claim benefits — if they were in dire straits.

Alison Graham, the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “We know that many people are at food banks today because there are delays in their benefits — and it’s precisely because people are not made aware of these advance payments.

"People should be told the truth about what is available.”

A DWP spokesman said centre workers are there to provide administrative support over the phone and that every letter sent out to sanctioned claimants tells them about hardship payments and how to apply.

The government has spent £700 million on its flagship benefits scheme and says it and the IT system that hosts it are working.

But critics say the system is "not fit for purpose".

The scheme is behind schedule with just 35,000 people claiming Universal Credit compared to the planned two million.

In just 20 days seen by the undercover reporter, the computer system crashed nine times — once for the whole day — during which staff had to ask callers to ring back later.

During one incident on January 20, the trainer told the reporter: “Sometimes the UC portal just blocks, stops running. We don’t know why it happens, so again, we’ve still got a lot of work to do on this.”

A DWP spokesman said that on the rare occasion a problem occurs, it is fixed as a matter of urgency and that a planned upgrade in February affected the service for three days.

He added that there have since then been no issues and performance has improved.

During the reporter’s induction, the trainer said it was “all higgledy-piggledy” and at some stages did not seem sure how to proceed.

“The overall feedback from staff is their training is effective and, more importantly, they feel supported and confident in delivering this major welfare reform,” the DWP spokesman added.

“This was the first induction course run for new external recruits in Bolton service centre and the first time the trainer had run this new training package."

Universal Credit came to Bolton in June and merges six benefits — jobseekers’ allowance, housing benefit, income support, employment and support allowance and working tax and child tax credit — which will be paid directly to claimants’ bank accounts once a month.

Dispatches: Benefits Britain will be shown on Channel 4 tonight at 8pm.