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Saturday, 30 July 2011

Parliamentary Committee urges HMRC to stop using "premium charge" 0845 telephone numbers

In its report on "The Administration and effectiveness of HM Revenue and Customs", the Treasury Select Committee calls on HMRC to "investigate alternatives to 0845 numbers, including 0345".

This falls short of my demand that HMRC immediately make available the 0345 equivalent for every one of its 0845 numbers.

This pragmatic and easily adopted solution could enable callers to save up to 41p per minute in premium charges. By simply allowing the second digit of any published HMRC number to be swapped from a "8" to a "3", the cost and confusion of lots of individual number changes could be avoided. Furthermore, such a measure could be adopted immediately, without waiting for a new telephone service contract.

The loss of the modest subsidy which HMRC derives from its use of 0845 numbers would be more than offset by the saving to callers. In most cases calls to 03 numbers are included in call packages, whereas 0845 numbers are subject to a premium charge. The one exception to this rule is BT, which originates around 25% of non-business calls. BT includes both 0845 and 03 numbers in its call packages and is prevented by regulation from adding its own charge to the money it has to pay to HMRC on 0845 calls.

I have demanded that the same approach of providing 0345 equivalent numbers be adopted by DWP agencies, NHS Direct, NHS 24 and all other public bodies (including BBC local radio stations) currently using 0845 numbers. When circumstances permit, or number rationalisation is being undertaken, then proper changes to 03 numbers can occur.

If Ofcom goes ahead with its proposals for revised regulation of non-geographic numbers, HMRC (and others) will shortly be required to always advise the "Service Charge" of around 2p per minute which is imposed on callers to 0845 numbers, to its benefit. Telephone companies will also be required to publish their associated "Access Charge". When this long overdue transparency is applied to this murky area, HMRC will not be able to hide from the need to justify its Service Charge, which is presently hidden within "bundled" telephone call charges.

All 03 numbers are classified as “Geographic Rate” as calls must be charged at no greater rate than that for a geographic number. Service Charges and Access Charges do not apply to calls to geographic or 03 numbers.


1.The Report is summarised here - note the first listed Recommendation.
2.The Conclusions and recommendations are listed here - see item 27.
3.The relevant item in the report is found here - see sections 112 / 113.
4.My evidence to the committee is published here.
5.Details of the effect of Ofcom's proposals and further comments are found here.

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