Ofcom has today published extensive information about 0845 and 0844 telephone numbers - Simplifying Non-Geographic Numbers.
This includes proposals to rename these ranges as "business rate" and to require the call charges to be "unbundled", so that the "access charge" paid to the telephone service provider is separated from the "service charge" to the benefit of the user of the number.
This is a long overdue clarification and simplification of what is happening today. The proposed change is only in how the situation is presented.
Many NHS service providers, HMRC and DWP agencies use 0845 and 0844 "business rate" numbers. It is now clearly revealed that the charges for calling these numbers include a "service charge". Once this is declared separately, "unbundled", it will become quite clear that use of such numbers is quite improper, except where a service fee may fairly be levied for the call.
The 03 range will remain available for those who require "non-geographic" numbers that are charged at the standard "geographic" rate. All public bodies must recognise the need to move to 03 numbers immediately. The direct equivalent alternative 0345 and 0344 numbers are available and may be adopted at any time (within the term of an existing telephone service contract). Where appropriate these alternative numbers may be operated in parallel to save the expense of total number changes.