(See the exchange and the additional information provided by my annotation at this item on TheyWorkForYou)
The current scandal of imposing potentially modest charges for access to public services through use of telephone numbers where the charge paid includes "a revenue sharing component" is rife.
The fact that such charges are collected indirectly, often received only as a subsidy to offset costs and sometimes lost amongst the complexity of telephone tariffs makes it easy for them to be hidden.
This applies to all use of 0843, 0844, 0845, 0871, 0872 and 0873 numbers, which are now classified by Ofcom as " Business Rate". New regulations covering their use are expected to be announced by Ofcom early in 2012.
The benefit derived is (roughly) between 2p and 10p per call minute,
whereas the additional cost (over that of a call to a 01/02/03 number) can be over 40p per minute.
There is not even a direct proportionality; calls to 0845 numbers yielding 2p per minute can incur an additional cost (e.g. for T-Mobile contract customers) of 41p per minute.
My campaigning focus, for this issue, is on HMRC, the DWP agencies, NHS Direct, a number of other NHS Bodies and the large number of NHS GPs who are now in breach of their NHS contracts, by using numbers that cost more than the cost of "equivalent calls to a geographical number". These are perhaps the most important cases, but there are many others.
The government's position on the issue of charging for access to public services is neatly summarised in a written answer from Chris Grayling, Minister of State - DWP, to a question about whether Work Programme providers are permitted to use 084 / 087 numbers. See Hansard 17 October c644W.
Mr Grayling confirms that, so long as they meet the minimal requirements on call cost declaration (which currently permit the denial of there being any financial benefit to the user of the number), Work Programme providers are permitted to levy a charge on those seeking to move from benefits to work in this way.
This scandal will continue until the government - probably through the Cabinet Office - gets to grips with the issue. It must clearly determine where it is appropriate to charge users for access to public services and demand that the existence of this charge be declared (notwithstanding the perversity of telephone tariffs, which are outside the control of users).
I await acceptance of my offer to place my understanding and knowledge of this issue at the disposal of the government.
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