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Monday, 7 March 2011

This Thursday (10 March) is the deadline for responses to the Ofcom consultation on expensive telephone numbers

Back in December, Ofcom launched a consultation on proposals to deal with the "rip-offs" on expensive telephone numbers - Simplifying Non-Geographic Numbers.

People presently pay up to 41p per minute extra to call NHS Direct, HMRC, JobCentre Plus, their bank and many others by calling a 0845 number. These numbers are promoted with meaningless comments such as "local rate from BT, others may vary". It is BT that varies from the rest because it alone is currently subject to regulation of its charges (BT originates around 25% of non-business telephone calls).

Ofcom proposes that the Service Charge which recipients gain from these calls be clearly advertised as such and the Access Charge added by the telephone company be advised and charged separately.

I believe that these proposals should receive the strongest possible support. Ofcom requires responses by Thursday 10 March.

If all those who use 0845 and other expensive numbers (including GPs on 0844) and presently gain a subsidy from telephone calls were forced to declare it as being a "Service Charge", then they would have to switch their numbers or we could debate the propriety of their Service Charge properly.

NHS providers cannot levy Service Charges on patients, unless the NHS is to no longer be "free at the point of need". NHS GPs have until the end of this month to switch from 0844 to 0344 numbers, or stand in breach of their NHS contracts. If the government allows them to continue imposing (undeclared) Service Charges, then we will know where it stands!

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