12 December 2013
Ofcom announces a raft of changes to regulations of freephone and premium rate numbers
Ofcom has announced that the scandalous cost of calling supposedly-freephone numbers from mobile phones is set to disappear. Unfortunately, consumers will have to wait until the middle of 2015 for the change to take effect. The plan is part of a raft of measures that the chief executive of Ofcom Ed Richards called the biggest overhaul of UK telephone customers' experience in a decade. Other key measures include revised guidelines on the use of 08, 09 and 118 numbers to ensure that consumers always know what a call costs.
Ofcom attempts to make non-geographic numbers simpler to understand
While it is disappointing that consumers will have to wait until June 2015 for the new proposals to be implemented, Ofcom has stated that the delay is to allow companies to change over to the new way of itemising call costs. As part of the plan to make non-geographic call costs clearer, the cost of every call to a number starting 08, 09 or 118 will be broken down into two parts - an access charge, paid to the phone provider, and a service charge that goes to the organisation that is being contacted.
Instead of the current message that 'Calls will cost X pence per minute from a BT line. Calls may vary from other landlines and calls from mobiles may cost considerably more', a company's customers will see a message such as 'Calls will cost X pence per minute, plus your phone company's access charge.' This notice should be displayed anywhere that a non-geographic number is published.
Free to call 0800, 0808 and 116 from both landlines and mobiles
Undoubtedly, the measures to finally make it free for mobile phone users to call a 'freephone' number will be greeted with relief by many. In an age when fewer people are using landlines, and almost all consumers have access to a mobile phone, this anomaly has become an outdated bugbear. This will affect calls to 0800, 0808 and 116 numbers.
Premium rate number charges to be capped
Another important change in regulations regarding calls costs relates to the use of premium rate, or 09, numbers. Under the new conditions, the will be a cap on the level of service charge that companies can apply for calling these numbers. This should help combat the use of premium rate numbers by rogue operators.
As regards 0845 numbers, which often cause confusion, these will work in same as any other 084, 087 or 09 number in future. As with other call charges, the two portionss of charges for calling these numbers will have to be broken down so consumers can clearly see and understand what they will have to pay.
Ofcom to encourage public bodies to use lower-cost geographic numbers
Ofcom should be applauded for moving to protect consumers from rip-off call costs, even though it has taken a long time, and will not be in place for another 18 months. The regulator also plans to encourage public bodies and not-for-profit organisations to use 03, or geographic numbers, meaning a considerable saving for customers. Ofcom hopes that its action will 'restore people's confidence in using phone services', as well as increasing competition.