Does calling 0870 and 0845 numbers involve just ‘local’ and ‘national’ rate call charges as advertised? Ofcom is receiving more and more complaints on the issue and is once again consulting on further regulatory action.
When: October 2004
Ofcom launched a consultation entitled "Number translation services – Options for the future".
The consultation related to "local rate" 0845 and "national rate" 0870 non-geographic telephone numbers. "Number Translation Services" ("NTS") as they are called are used by businesses to provide an increasingly wide range of telephone services, such as dial up, pay as you go internet access, telephone banking and televoting. Ofcom estimates that in 2003 consumers in the UK spent £1.25 billion on NTS calls from fixed lines. However, Ofcom also reported growing concerns amongst stakeholders, including consumer uncertainty as to what the retail prices are for calls to these numbers. In particular, consumers found the "local rate" and "national rate" descriptions of 0845 and 0870 numbers confusing and potentially misleading. They had a point. Increasing competition for NTS has led to a wide variety of discount packages for local and national calls to NTS numbers. As a result, the actual costs of calling 0845 and 0870 numbers can be higher than local and national rates respectively. This means that consumers wanting to contact advertisers that turn out to be located quite close to them would be far better off calling their geographic numbers than their NTS 08 alternatives. Ofcom proposes a number of additional consumer protection measures to deal with this including: – working with the Advertising Standards Authority and the Committee of Advertising Practice to produce special guidance on advertising 084/087 numbers; – the development of a voluntary code of practice aimed at ensuring that communications providers provide better information on NTS call prices to their customers; – a wider role for ICSTIS in controlling adult content and other higher risk services on 087 numbers; and – pre-announcement of call prices at the start of all voice NTS calls. The consultation period closes on 7 January 2005.
Why this matters:
The actual levels of caller unrest reported by Ofcom here are unclear and one is concerned at the mention of yet another suggested new code of practice as a possible fix, with potentially more small print in ads that consumers will not read being the result. Perhaps a quick message at the start of the call might be the best option, so long as the caller gets a refund if, having heard it, he hangs up!