Ofcom to ensure ‘free’ numbers are actually free

12th December 2013

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In a major overhaul to telephone charges, calls to businesses which use freephone numbers will be free from mobile phones as well as landlines, the telecommunications regulator has confirmed.

Within the shake-up, consumer calls to so-called freephone services such as 0800, 0808 and 116 numbers, which are generally free from landlines, will become free from mobile phones too.

The measures are designed to tackle consumer confusion about how much it costs to call companies, public bodies and other organisations.

The service charge for premium rate – 09 numbers will also be capped, helping to protect consumers from the risk of rogue operators imposing extremely high charges in future.

But in addition those who call the likes of 09, 08 or 118 service numbers will be told how much they will be charged for their call. This will be highlighted on customers’ bills and callers may also be told by a recorded message.

Ofcom has said that the changes should all be implemented in around 18 months’ time, on 26 June 2015 and said it is already engaging with industry to oversee preparations for the changes.

As part of this, Ofcom is working with major landline and mobile providers to develop a national communications campaign which will explain the changes to UK telephone users from next year. Work is also underway to develop a consistent approach across industry to communicating call charges from the day the changes come in.

Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, said: “These changes will be the biggest for UK telephone customers in more than a decade. We expect them to restore people’s confidence in using phone services, and to increase competition.

“Freephone will mean free for all consumers, and the cost of calling other services will be made clear. Telephone users will be able to see how much they’re paying, and where their money is going.”

Marie-Louise Abretti, telecoms expert at comparison site, uSwitch.com, says: “This is a welcome sign that Ofcom is taking consumer protection seriously. If a number is ‘free’ then it should be free wherever you call from – these measures should finally make this a reality.

“The only thing that tempers this great news and slightly detracts from the strides Ofcom has made is the fact that these already long overdue changes won’t come in to effect until June 2015. This means consumers face another 18 months of finding a landline for free calls and being in the dark about calling non-geographic numbers.”

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