A LOCOG statement has been issued denying responsibility for the imposition of premium rate charges on wheelchair users visiting the London 2012 Paralympics. Although the statement contains false information about the cost of calling 0844 numbers, it is correct in saying that it has enabled appointed contractors to impose these charges.
It seems that Ticketmaster has been awarded the contract to provide the “Accessibility Team helpline” on 0844 847 2012 and the “Disabled parking call centre” on 0844 921 2012.
This seems to be fully in line with government policy for the disabled. The Department for Transport recently awarded administration of the Blue Badge scheme to Northgate Information Solutions, which operates Blue Badge helplines on 0844 463 0213/4/5.
These 0844 telephone numbers provide a subsidy to the service provider, through a “Service Charge” of between 3 and 7 pence per minute, which offsets the costs of their operations. Because of this modest subsidy however, callers pay not only this charge, but also the additional “Access Charge” levied by their own telephone company, which is almost invariably well in excess of the cost of a call to an ordinary number.
For a BT subscriber using the most popular BT Call Plan a 10 minute call to 0844 847 2012 would cost 65p (6.5 pence per minute) as against zero for a call to a 01/02 or 03 number.
An Orange contract caller would pay £4 for a 10 minute call to any of these 0844 numbers, as against zero for a call to a 01/02 or 03 number.
Ofcom will shortly be introducing new regulations which will require the “Service Charge” and “Access Charge” to be declared separately - see “Ofcom proposes a fairer system for telephone call charges”.
Last Monday, the Department for Trade and Industry announced that use of 084 numbers will shortly be prohibited for contact with customers - see “fair telecoms campaign welcomes ban on use of 084 / 087 numbers by businesses”.
David Hickson, of the fair telecoms campaign comments:
“The cost of calling a 0844 number has never had anything to do with ‘local rates’ - the ASA and Trading Standards are now quick to jump on any organisation that makes such false representations. 0844 numbers offer a very inefficient way of getting callers to subside the cost of a running telephone call centre. The 03 range offers all of the same facilities to the service provider, but the caller pays no more than they pay (if anything) to call a geographic number.
“When the government allows contractors to subsidise the cost of their service by imposing ‘Service Charges’, it should think carefully about when it is right for service users to pay in order to either reduce the cost to the taxpayer, or to make a government contract more profitable for the contractor.
“Allowing Service Charges to be imposed on callers to a Blue Badge helpline, a Disabled Parking call centre and a Paralympics Accessibility Centre does not seem to strike the right note for UK citizens at large, as we prepare to celebrate the achievements of a select group of disabled people from around the world.”