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Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Government wastes money by charging for public services

Many government departments and public bodies continue to pay for their telephone systems by ripping-off service users. They use “revenue-generating” 084 telephone numbers, when they should be following strong advice to use "cost neutral" 03 numbers.

They then compound, not correct, their error by calling back to those who incur high charges, notably mobile users. This simply wastes time and money, as the caller has already paid at a premium rate to make the call, when in many cases it could have been free. This rip-off and waste of public money must be ended, swiftly, by adopting a simple solution.

Probably the worst, of many, examples are as follows:

HM Revenue and Customs   0845 3000 627   for enquiries about tax over/under -payments
JobCentre Plus   0845 604 3719   to contact any Jobcentre
NHS Direct    0845 4647    for the telephone health advice and information service

To save money for callers, and for all taxpayers, they should immediately adopt the equivalent 03 alternative numbers, e.g. 0345 3000 627 / 0345 604 3719 / 0345 4647.

These are all reserved and available for immediate use under existing arrangements with telephone companies, and will enable use of exactly the same facilities.

03 numbers guarantee that callers pay no more than the cost of an ordinary call (to a 01/02) number. In many cases this is covered by their inclusive package or bundle - i.e. it is free. 0845 calls are generally subject to a premium – e.g. 40p per minute from mobiles.
NHS Direct advises all students to save its 0845 number on their mobile phone!

Radical measures are needed to save money swiftly, as all budgets are now under pressure. Rather than incurring the cost of a change to a completely new 03 number, the 0345 equivalent numbers should simply be made available for use alongside the 0845 numbers. Unnecessary callbacks to those who can call the 0345 number for free must be halted.

Please see the further points below, and contact me for further information and comment.

Further points

The Central Office of Information confirms that the full cost of handling calls to 084 numbers is picked up by the caller, whereas with 03 numbers the caller only pays for their own share of the use of the telephone network. (see the COI statement below)

The COI also advises that revenue-generating numbers, such as 084, should not be used, unless there is a clear reason for doing so.

It is for NHS Direct, HMRC and the DWP agencies to explain their reasons for imposing access fees on service users. The cost to the taxpayer of a callback (after the caller has already paid for the initial call) does not remove this fee, it simply adds greater expense, wiping out the improper benefit that is being obtained.

BT is uniquely prohibited by regulation from making money on landline calls to 084 numbers - all of the charge it levies is passed on the person being called. This only applies to BT landlines, which are used for less than 28% of non-business telephone calls. Mobile callers benefit from relatively cheap rates for calls to ordinary (01/02/03) numbers, in most cases they are covered by bundles and packages, whereas calls to 084 numbers are always charged at a high rate, i.e. 30-40p per minute. Public payphone users pay 60p for a call of up to 30 minutes to an ordinary (01/02/03) number; a 15-minute call to a 0845 number costs £3.40. Other landline callers do not benefit from the regulations which cover only BT subscribers; Virgin Media charges 11p plus 10p per minute for 0845 calls, when calls to ordinary (01/02/03) numbers are included in packages.

Quoting BT landline rates as an example, when they are exceptionally cheap due to unique regulation, is, at best, misleading.

NHS Direct continues to fail to make available the 0345 4647 number which has been set up ready for use for over 2 years now. This failure is seen to be more foolish and insensitive in the context of a recent suggestion – “Students are advised to store NHS Direct’s number – 0845 4647 – in their mobile” (see link below). Most students will have finished their courses before the more limited (free to call) 111 replacement service is available to them. NHS Direct continues to provide a model for the many other NHS service providers who retain their 084 numbers, despite directions and contract revisions which should have brought this improper practice to an end.

When invited to comment on the excessive cost of calling 0845 numbers from mobiles, rather than from BT landlines, NHS Direct said "The cost of calling NHS Direct from a mobile varies between networks, and the mobile phone user can check the cost of 0845 calls with their provider".

As well as declaring ignorance of the actual cost of calling it from a mobile, NHS Direct thinks it relevant to point out that callers only pay its telephone bill; they do not provide it with additional revenue, through a revenue sharing arrangement. (see the NHS Direct statement below.)

Notes and references

1. The Central Office of Information has issued the following statement:

"COI issues Contact Centre guidance which strongly advises that revenue generating tariffs, including 0870, should not be used for government activity unless there is a clear reason for doing so.  Our guidance is available to all departments and public bodies, but while we offer clear advice we cannot enforce against the use of these tariffs.

"Different non geographical number rates are available for government departments and public bodies to use via COI's contract with BT. The cost of calls for the caller depend on the type of number used. For example, the department picks up the full cost of 0800 number calls, the cost is split between the caller and the department for 0300 / 0303 number calls, and the full cost of 0845 /0844 numbers are picked up by the caller.

"The COI contract with BT allows departments to change their number/s and often departments chose to retain the end of their existing number as part of a transfer."

Rhona de la Mer

Senior Press and Marketing Manager
Corporate Communications and Marketing

Central Office of Information
Hercules House, London, SE1 7DU
t:  020 7261 8306

e: rhona.delamer@coi.gsi.gov.uk

w: coi.gov.uk

2. NHS Direct has issued the following statement:

The cost of calling NHS Direct from a mobile varies between networks, and the mobile phone user can check the cost of 0845 calls with their provider. Alongside the telephone service, NHS Direct provides online services which are free to use and, if appropriate, can lead to a call-back from a nurse at no cost to the patient. The purpose of this press release was to remind students of the services we offer, which we know are extremely popular with students.

“NHS Direct does not receive any revenue from calls to our 0845 4647 number. NHS Direct uses BT for provision of its 0845 number under the centrally negotiated COI tariff. This tariff does not make provision for revenue share on 0845 numbers."

Lisa Gaskell

Media and External Affairs Manager

NHS Direct


020 7599 4223

until Wednesday 27 October, contact Safiya Waley on 020 7599 4260

3. The NHS Direct press release including the statement "Students are advised to store NHS Direct’s number – 0845 4647 – in their mobile" is published at http://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/News/LatestNews/StudentHealthAdvice.

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