Ofcom proposes removal of freephone 0500 numbers

Ofcom proposes removal of freephone 0500 numbers

Telecoms watchdog Ofcom has launched a consultation into the proposed removal of the freephone 0500 numbers.

The consultation examines the options for the numbers, which include maintaining the status quo as it is, aligning the number with 080 as a free-to-caller service, capping charges from mobile phones or completely withdrawing the number range.

Ofcom's preferred option is to completely remove the 0500 range. The organisation claimed the removal would offer "the greatest new benefit to the consumer", as it would reduce consumer confusion, secure the best use of telephone numbers and enhance the simplicity of the new freephone 080 system.

Currently the 0500 numbers are a freephone range like the 080 prefix, but active 0500 have been decreasing in recent years, along with the volume of calls to the numbers. A very large proportion of 0500 calls are to a small group of numbers operated by fewer than 30 organisations, indicating that the service is not being used as was originally intended.

Ofcom has consulted most of the major 0500 users and noted that they generally prefer that 0500 is aligned to 080, but recognise the poor consumer understanding of the range and are open to other options including withdrawal of the range.

The watchdog is aware that removing the range of numbers will lead to costs being incurred by existing operators of the numbers. During initial enquiries, the major operators said they would be open to a withdrawal of the service if it was done in a way that diminished costs and disruption.

Ofcom's investigations indicate that costs are likely to be small and that disruption to services will relate, in the most part, to the speed with which migration from 0500 would need to be undertaken.

A longer period for the withdrawal of 0500 numbers would lower costs for affected organisations, which is why the watchdog has proposed an implementation period of as much as two years.