Ofcom Tightens Rules on 08xx Numbers

Ofcom today set out proposals to provide clarity about the price of calls to 0870 numbers and strengthen consumer protection on calls to 0871 numbers.

0870 numbers are used by many businesses and organisations for a wide range of services including road traffic advice, customer services and financial services. This consultation is part of Ofcom’s wider review of so-called “non-geographic” telephone numbers (those not assigned by location) following consumer concerns over the lack of transparency about the cost of calls.

Today’s consultation proposes that all calls to 0870 numbers should normally cost no more than calls to geographic numbers (01 or 02 numbers) and that 0870 calls should be included in communications providers’ call packages price plans on the same basis as geographic calls. This may significantly reduce the cost of calling these numbers.

Currently 0870 calls are priced at levels that enable businesses and organisations to share the revenue generated by per-minute call charges. Ofcom’s proposals would effectively end revenue sharing on 0870 numbers when combined with other proposed changes to non-geographic call regulation.

Communications providers that want to charge 0870 calls at rates above those for geographic numbers would be bound by strict rules about how prices are publicised and would be responsible for ensuring their customers know what 0870 calls cost. If communications providers do not comply with these rules, they could be subject to penalties including possible fines.

Ofcom aims to have the proposed changes in place by the autumn.

Responding to Ofcom’s announcement today on Changes to 0870, Consumer Panel Chair Anna Bradley said: “We welcome Ofcom’s moves towards ensuring 0870 numbers cost no more than calls to geographic numbers, and increasing call price transparency. The continued high prices of calling 0870 numbers, particularly from mobile phones, remains a shame and a scandal.

“We call on the industry to do the right thing by their customers. They should charge the geographic rate for 0870 calls and include such calls in customer call packages. It is simply unacceptable that consumers are paying up to 25p a minute to call 0870 numbers from mobile phones, or 10p a minute from a landline, when compared to the lower costs of calling geographic numbers.”

Separately, Ofcom also published a consultation setting out proposals to improve consumer protection for calls to the most expensive 08 numbers (0871 numbers) by bringing these within the remit of the premium rate services regulator PhonepayPlus (formerly called ICSTIS).

Under PhonepayPlus rules, businesses would be required to publish the price of calls in their advertising and promotional materials and PhonepayPlus would also investigate complaints about excessively long call queuing times only after the complaint has first been referred to the service provider.