Government bans "rip-off" premium-rate phone numbers
The government is to outlaw the use of 084, 087 and other "rip-off" telephone numbers for enquiries and complaints.
Included in the Department for Business, Innovations & Skills' (BIS) recent update on its consumer rights bill was a paragraph that states that if a trader makes a phone number available to customers, that number must be either a geographic number, a mobile number, or a freephone number.
David Hickson, campaigner with the Fair Telecoms Campaign, said the detail was "one among many measures not adequately prioritised by BIS" when it made its consumer rights bill announcement earlier this week.
Hickson said: "It is reassuring that the premium charges associated with 084 numbers are now recognised for what they are. This ban will be great for consumers and it will also highlight many other situations where use of the numbers must cease."
But he was quick to point out that the rule does not appear to apply to customers of government services. The Department for Work and Pensions, for example, uses numbers that begin with 35 or 0845, while BIS itself operates an 0845 number for its redundancy payments service helpline.
Other popular services that still use premium-rate telephone numbers include Citizens Advice, UCAS and the Student Loans Company.
"The imminent announcement of A-level results for England on 15 August will once again focus attention on the needs of those progressing to higher education," said Hickson in a statement.
"All vulnerable groups have a higher than normal tendency to use mobile phones, where the marginal cost difference in calling 084/087 numbers is at its greatest," he added.
The 'service charge' subsidy of more than 10p a minute earned by UCAS on calls to its 0871 number is only part of the call cost incurred. Most telephone companies also add an 'access charge' when originating calls to all 084/087 numbers. This can be as great as 39p per minute on some mobile tariffs for some number types.
"Companies and public bodies should be able to take responsibility for themselves. Does Citizens Advice really need government regulation to tell it how to behave? Whether compelled by law, inspired to do the right thing or pressed by angry customers, those who cannot justify a service charge on callers must cease using 084 and 087 numbers."
BIS is inviting comments on the draft regulations by 11 October. They will become law by the end of 2013, to be in effect by the middle of 2014.
Which are the premium-rate numbers that frustrate you the most? Let us know in the comment box below.