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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Ofcom proposes a fairer system for telephone call charges

From: David Hickson of the Fair Telecoms Campaign

Ofcom proposals released today announce the end of the 084 telephone number "rip-off" practiced by many businesses and public bodies. (See Simplified call charges to help consumers.)

Ofcom also proposes to clear up the situation with calls to 080 numbers, so that the recipient pays the full cost, whether the call is made from a landline or a mobile.

As with calls to "Premium Rate Service" 087 and 09 numbers, all calls to 084 numbers include a cost which is passed on to the person receiving the call - a "Service Charge".

At present the charge is only regulated when the call is made using BT. The new proposals will cause the cost of all calls to 08, 09 and 118 numbers to be transparent to the caller in all cases - including the separate amount of the charge to the benefit of the person receiving the call.

This will have a radical effect on banks, insurance companies and others who use these numbers for "service" lines, at a charge to their benefit which is not presently being declared. Even more radical will be the need for public bodies, notably NHS providers but also HMRC and the DWP agencies such as JobCentres and the Pensions Service, who cannot charge for their services, to simply stop using these numbers.

Where necessary, they will have to switch to numbers from the 03 range, on which calls are charged at the same rate as call to "geographic" (01/02) numbers, with no revenue sharing permitted.

The proposals are detailed and complex, but the essential principles are solid.

If, for example, a GP were to continue using a 0844 number, its website and patient leaflet would have to include the advice:

"This call will cost you 5 pence per minute plus your phone company's access charge"

No provider of NHS services could do this! There are still over 1,000 NHS GP surgeries using these numbers.

When complete, this will represent a fulfilment of what I have been campaigning for over many years - most especially with relevance to the NHS. In conjunction with other campaigners I will be consolidating efforts to ensure that these changes are understood and fully implemented under the banner of the " Fair Telecoms Campaign".

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