End of the line for rip-off 0800 numbers: Mobile phone users currently charged up to 20p a minute will dial for free after fees are outlawed
- Operators are charging up to 20p a minute - even if 0800 numbers are free
- Some are important services run by Government and NHS departments
- Watchdog Ofcom published proposals to put an end to the rip-off in July
Telecom watchdogs are to stop a rip-off that allows mobile phone firms to charge customers to call supposedly free 0800 numbers.
Currently mobile phone companies charge customers up to 20p a minute to dial what are free numbers from a landline phone.
The net result is that millions of people dialling what should be free services run by the NHS, the government and company call centres end up paying hefty charges.
End call: Charges of up to 20p a minute being charged by operators for free 0800 numbers will end from July 1 under proposals published by the telecoms watchdog, Ofcom, today
Alternatively, some who rely on mobile phones rather than landlines are put off accessing these services by the cost.
The charges will end from July 1 under proposals published by the telecoms watchdog, Ofcom, today.
The changes were fought by the mobile phone networks, which have been making tens of millions of pounds a year from customers calling the numbers.
In 2013, the biggest mobile network, EE, even threatened to take legal action to block the move.
At the time, the company, which is about to be taken over by BT in a deal worth £12.5billion, complained getting rid of charges for 0800 numbers was ‘ill thought out’ and would ‘crush an already struggling industry segment’.
It argued the change could cost up to £57.5 million to implement and that mobile networks would simply put up other charges to make up for any lost income.
EE claims the plan is ill thought out and will make an already struggling industry suffer
A spokesman for the telecoms price comparison website, broadbandchoices.co.uk, welcomed moves to make the price of calls clearer to consumers.
He said: ‘Making ‘0800’ numbers free from all telephones including mobile phones is excellent news since it’s rarely practical to redial from a landline to avoid charges for what are generally assumed to be ‘free phone’ numbers.
‘Greater cost transparency and simplicity of charging is badly needed in the landline and mobile phone sector. We regularly hear from consumers who are confronted with charges on their phone bill that they were unaware of.’
The changes are part of a wider shake-up in call charges to non-geographic numbers, which are described by Ofcom as the ‘biggest overhaul of phone calls in more than a decade’.
They are part of a new regime imposing new rules covering the cost of calling the 084, 087 and 09 numbers used in TV show phone polls, by businesses, GP surgeries and government departments – as well as 118 directory enquiry numbers.
At the moment, the cost of calling these numbers is mired in confusion with charges varying enormously depending on whether you are using a landline or a mobile phone.
In future, organisations using these numbers will be required to advertise a single ‘service charge’ for dialling them. Separately, each phone company will apply an ‘access charge’ for putting people through.
Consumers will add the two figures together to work out the full cost, which will vary depending on which phone company they are signed to.
Ofcom and phone companies will be publicising the changes under the banner UK Calling before the switch in the summer.
The regulator’s chief executive, Sharon White, said: ‘In July we’ll see the biggest changes to phone calls in over a decade, affecting 175 million phone numbers.
‘The changes are important for people who enjoy interacting with their favourite shows, but also for everyone calling companies and organisations on 08, 09 and 118 numbers.