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Monday, 30 November 2009

Rip Off Britain - update

The episode of Rip Off Britain broadcast by BBC1 this morning highlighted a number of important issues regarding use of revenue sharing telephone numbers.

Relevant portions are in the clip shown below:

The campaign led by Guy Mayhew is worthy of greater support and coverage now that his e-petition has concluded.

I offer the following points of clarification and update on the matters covered.

The public has recognised that the Department of Health announcement of 14 September was NOT a ban on the rip off, and breach of the fundamental principles of the NHS, caused by use of 084 numbers. The figure of 37,000 signatures on Guy Mayhew’s e-petition to the Prime Minister grew to over 51,000 in the few weeks since that announcement, and the making of this programme.

Gareth Davies of Ofcom was correct in saying that Ofcom cannot demand use of 03 numbers by public bodies. The appalling lack of public recognition of 03 confirms Ofcom’s failure to effectively promote their use, which it has both the powers and the duty to do. This is seen particularly in the case of the NHS where every present user of a 084 number could readily transfer to the equivalent 034 number so as to continue to provide the same service, but funded properly. This point has not been recognised by the Department of Health, which has allowed use of 084 numbers to continue. It has even failed to permit use of 0345 4647 as an alternative number for NHS Direct during the remaining months of its life, despite the fact that this number has been set up ready for use for over 12 months.

Unless BT and 3 are simply trying to retain a bigger share of the pot of money spent on calls to mobiles, or to put their competitors out of business, their one-wayTerminate the Rate” campaign will simply put more upward pressure on the costs of calls from mobile networks to landlines. This is a commercial dispute which has cleverly engaged the support of some who have been persuaded that it is in the consumer interest. What business would not allege that its competitors are engaged in a rip off to some degree?

It is the same concept of a “termination rate” which is the basis of the revenue sharing on 084 and Premium Rate Service numbers, as used by many FSB members (and also Citizens Advice Bureaux). That is what is causing the particular rip off being suffered by Louise and David Mason. All telephone calls, like other utilities, have to be paid for somehow; it is not always the utility provider that is to blame if the cost burden is unfairly distributed.

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