I have just published an updated briefing on this issue. Please refer there for detail and links.
This includes a pre-announcement of the launch of a specific timely campaign aimed at all public bodies (especially DWP, HRMC and the NHS) using 0845 telephone numbers.
The cost of calling 0845
0845 numbers are expensive to call because they are subject to revenue sharing. Part of the call charge (all of it in the special case of BT) is passed on to subsidise use of special telephony facilities by the user of the number.
Public bodies should not be using these numbers. The same special facilities are available with 03xx numbers, on which revenue sharing is prohibited. Calls to 03xx numbers must be charged on exactly the same basis as calls to ordinary "geographic" numbers. Very few public bodies have carried out the plan for them all to switch from 0845 to 03xx.
I have provided a briefing in response to an unanswered ministerial question from Caroline Lucas MP- "what does it cost claimants to call 0845 numbers used by the DWP?"
· On average - £1.24 per 10-minute daytime call vs. £0.51 for the same call to a 03xx or geographic number.
· From a public payphone - £2.40 vs. £0.60
· From a PAYG mobile - £4.15 vs. £1.65
· From a contract mobile - £2.00 vs. 0
· From a Virgin Media landline - £1.12 vs. 0
With the CSR in prospect, the expense involved in carefully planned renumbering exercises is out of the question, so I propose a simple solution.
The 0345 equivalent for every 0845 number is available for use as an alternative. Public bodies which use 0845 numbers should therefore simply bring the 0345 equivalents into use as "alternatives", announcing -
"All telephone services can be accessed by replacing the 0845 code with 0345 and dialling the remaining digits as stated".
This will save the expense of re-printing literature and the confusion of giving two different individual numbers, which has always been the obstacle.
The loss of subsidy will be more than covered by the saving in time and direct cost gained by avoiding the need to make unnecessary call-backs. A return call is currently offered to all those who cannot afford (or are reluctant to pay) the premium involved in calling 0845 numbers.
I strongly commend use of the call back policy by everyone who does not benefit from the uniquely regulated, exceptionally low, rates charged by BT for calls to 0845 numbers. Providing the 0345 alternatives would however be a much cheaper option for the public bodies (and therefore all of us as taxpayers), as well as stopping the absurd situation where callers have to pay at a premium rate whilst waiting to get through to ask for a call back!