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Costly calls soon to be cut off

Government hangs up on pricey 084 and 087 numbers
Woman shouting into a phone handset

Customers calling airlines, train operators, and major high street and online retailers will no longer have to pay more than the basic rate, putting a stop to costly calls, the government announced today.

The announcement, which is to be implemented in June 2014,  follows the Which? Costly Calls campaign and means the government will next year put an end to expensive premium 084 and 087 numbers for customers calling helplines to complain about issues like faulty microwaves or incorrect train tickets.

Which? win on costly calls

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: ‘This is a victory for the 63,000 people who supported our campaign calling on all companies and public bodies to provide basic rate numbers for all customer service and complaint telephone lines.

‘We’re pleased the government has extended the Consumer Rights Directive to include travel firms and that it has now agreed and clarified that basic rate does not include pricey 084 or 087 numbers.

‘We look forward to seeing the guidance to stop public bodies using high rate numbers and we expect the Financial Conduct Authority to introduce similar measures in financial services to ensure that there are no exceptions and put an end to costly calls across the board.’

Consumer Minister Jo Swinson said: ‘It really is unfair that consumers are being stung in this way. For too long, some businesses have been trying to extract every extra penny from their loyal customers.

‘From next year, if something goes wrong with a cooker, or commuters want a refund on their season ticket, they will now pay the same to phone a helpline as they do to call friends or family.’

For more information on your rights visit the Which? consumer rights website to make sure you’re not left out of pocket. 

Costly calls crackdown

While many firms already offer freephone or basic rate numbers, some traders provide an 0800 or free phone number for pre-contract calls to lure customers in, but then only offer expensive premium rate numbers once people have paid for a product or service.

The numbers are also used by public bodies, but the government has now said it is ‘inappropriate’ for callers to pay high call charges for accessing vital public services. 

The Cabinet Office will be publishing guidance for departments’ use of number prefixes shortly.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is also committed to considering whether it could introduce similar measures for people calling banks, insurance companies and investment brokers.

Consumer rights strengthened

The move is to be included in the regulations implementing the Consumer Rights Directive, due to come into force in June 2014. It also includes:

  • Increasing the time limit for returning goods purchased online or by phone from seven days to 14 days after the goods have been received, should the consumer change their mind
  • Banning pre-ticked tick boxes for extras that the consumer may not want or need and that could result in unexpected payment
  • Setting out key information consumers should be given by traders before agreeing to purchase, like additional costs or cancellation rights
  • Eliminating hidden charges and costs on the internet
  • Eliminating surcharges for the use of credit cards and hotlines

Clearer call charges

Meanwhile, the cost of calling businesses and services on 08, 09 and 118 numbers, often used by people for directory enquiries, banking, and entertainment services, will also become clearer for consumers under new measures introduced by the regulator, Ofcom.

Currently, unless they are using a BT line, callers to these numbers are not generally informed how much they will be charged. 

Under the new rules, telephone users calling service numbers will see the cost broken down into an ‘access charge’ to their phone company, plus a ‘service charge’ to the company or organisation they are calling.

The changes, which will come into effect in June 2015, will enable consumers to understand the exact cost of making the call and compare prices of different phone and service providers more easily.

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