The cost of calling 0870 numbers should be reduced so that they cost no more than geographic numbers, the telecoms watchdog has proposed.
Many businesses and organisations use 0870 numbers to provide information including road traffic advice, customer service and financial advice.
They can then share the revenue from these 0870 calls – which can be as high as 25p a minute from some mobiles – with the phone service provider.
But telecoms regulator Ofcom says it now wants 0870 numbers to cost no more than calls to geographic numbers (01 or 02 numbers).
It also wants 0870 calls to be included in phone providers’ call packages on the same basis as geographic calls.
Any businesses who want to charge higher rates for 0870 calls would have to be bound by strict rules about publicising prices, and would be responsible for making sure their customers knew the costs.
However, Which? spokesman Bob Tolliday said this could be a cause for some confusion. He said: ‘It’s good to see Ofcom has recognised the unpopularity of the high charges customers pay on 0870 numbers.
‘Unfortunately it won’t completely end the confusion for people calling 0870 as sometimes the call could be charged at the cheaper national rate and sometimes it could be much higher.’
The Ofcom proposals also improve protection for customers calling 0871 lines – the most expensive of the 08 numbers – by bringing them under the remit of premium rate services regulator PhonepayPlus.
Businesses using 0871 numbers would have to publish the price of calls in their advertising under rules set down by PhonepayPlus.
PhonepayPlus would investigate complaints about excessively long call queuing times if the provider failed to resolve the issue.
Ofcom Consumer Panel chairwoman 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.’