Ofcom announces changes to freephone and ‘service number’ charges

Ofcom announces changes to freephone and ‘service number’ charges

Ofcom has announced that it is to change the potential cost of freephone numbers from July 1st 2015.

The regulator states calls to 0800 / 0808 freephone numbers will be ‘free to callers', whether they happen to be calling from a landline or from a mobile phone.

Although the move looks set to have a positive impact on consumers, experts are predicting that many mobile operators will still charge a ‘mobile access levy’ (a per minute rate) to 0800 customers in order to cover the cost of allowing the consumer to call that number.

This method will be similar to the access levy incurred when calling 0800 numbers from a payphone.

The impact of this change is set to be two-fold, with an additional per minute cost to receive calls from mobile phones, as well as expected increase in the volumes of calls from mobile phones.

Although the exact number of these calls cannot be easily quantified, industry analysts estimate an increase of between 50 and 200 per cent.  

Experts are also advising customers using such services to evaluate whether they would like to switch to a replacement 03 service, which shares a number of the benefits offered by 0800 numbers, mainly due to it coming out of inclusive minutes, and does not incur the mobile access levy.

Those using 0500 numbers have also been advised to switch slightly earlier as they are due to be phased out in June 2017.

Meanwhile, organisations using 084/087/09/118 'service numbers' will also be subjected to new rules on advertising the price of calls.

According to Ofcom, the process of finding out the price of calls to 084/087 or similar service numbers has been made too difficult, with the phrase ‘calls from mobiles or other service providers may cost considerably more’, and the regulator claims costs need to be made clearer to consumers.

From July 1st, the way calls to this number are charged is therefore set to change, splitting into two parts.

The first will be a charge for the service that the consumer is receiving from providers, while the second will be an access charge, which will be charged by telephone providers to call these numbers. Each operator will be required to set a single access charge across all of their service numbers.

This will then make it much simpler to ensure the consumer is aware of the cost, adding the service charge relevant to their access charge, which will largely depend on what phone service they use.

According to Ofcom, making customers aware of charges to call companies on 084/087 services is of the utmost importance, with the regulator teaming up with Advertising Standards Authority in order to ensure prices are clearly displayed on all consumer communications.