THE Home Office has blamed a “technical glitch” after callers to an emergency Afghanistan helpline were redirected to a washing machine repair company in Coventry.

Priti Patel’s department was inundated with complaints as people were left on hold for hours or unable to get through at all.

One caller in Scotland – who was phoning on behalf of their family in Afghanistan – also complained that instead of speaking to a UK Government official they had been put through to a washing machine repair firm.

That prompted a demand for action from the person’s constituency MP, the SNP’s Chris Law.

The helpline, which was launched by the Home Office last week, is for “vulnerable” non-British nationals in Afghanistan.

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The Home Office acknowledged that some calls had mistakenly been redirected to a washing machine repair business but insisted the “technical glitch” had been resolved “swiftly”.

The service was launched last week as the Taliban swept to power following the withdrawal of western forces – sparking fears of brutal reprisals for anyone not considered to be sympathetic to the new regime.

But the Home Office urged anxious callers not to dial in repeatedly to “chase” officials for information, claiming that was the reason for some delays.

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.”

The Home Office insisted over the weekend that the helpline would be open 24-hours a day as of Monday, having initially been open from 9.30am to 11pm UK time. But many callers complained on social media on Monday that the lines were still shut after 11pm.

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Although no official announcement was publicised on social media channels, UK Government officials now say the phoneline will be opened around the clock from today (Wednesday).

Others said yesterday (Tuesday) that they were still facing waits of several hours to speak to operators, while some were unable to get through at all.

The Home Office insists it has been increasing the number of call handlers on a daily basis and that wait times have been cut to as little as 15 minutes.

SNP MP Law raised concerns about the emergency services after being contacted by constituents who were desperately seeking help for their families.

He told The National: “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. On another try, the line was dead.”

He added: "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.”

Objections were also raised over callers being made to pay for the helpline.

BBC reporter Suhrab Sirat tweeted: “Many in Afghanistan who are eligible can't afford the airtime cost. [A] few told me they called the number and waited for hours until they ran out of phone credit. Banks are shut and it's not easy to find phone credit. There isn’t even enough electricity to charge phones.”

The UK Government says “customers” will pay a local call rate, with the rest of the charges covered by the Home Office.