Ofcom all set to drop costs of calls to 0870 numbers

8th May 2009

In keeping with Ofcom’s statutory duty to further customer interests, it has announced new rules aimed at persuading communication providers to drop their rates for calls directed to 0870 numbers and to include these non-geographic numbers in similar call packages as geographic calls.

Put into practice, these new rules will not only result in a considerable drop in the cost of calling 0870 numbers but will also help drive consumer awareness about the steep charges involved in doing so.

Those communication providers that do not choose to reduce their rates for calling 0870 numbers from both fixed and mobile lines, will now have to fall into line with strict legal specifications detailing the manner in which the price for such non-geographic calls should be announced both on the company website as well as on all promotional material used at outlets.

The new rules also place the onus of educating the customer of the high cost involved, squarely on the shoulders of the communication providers who will face legal action and enforcement if they attempt to publicize the 0870 numbers as “national rates” when that clearly isn’t case.

Ofcom, the competition and regulatory authority for the communications industry in the UK, has lauded the efforts of certain fixed line providers that have already taken measures to both drop the rates and include 0870 numbers in call packages.

Currently, customers are under the impression that communication providers are charging them “national rates.” In its statement, Ofcom has placed responsibility for this confusion on “misleading advertising” that gets consumers to believe that they’re being charged the same rate for 0870 numbers as those of geographic numbers, (those starting with 01 and 02). In truth, however, they are being charged significantly more for non-geographic calls.

0870 numbers, used primarily by businesses to provide services like sales, enquiry, automated information, call centres etc., permit companies using these numbers to earn a share of the money generated by the calls that are charged on a per minute basis. The benefit of 0870 numbers is that they allow consumers to access service providers quickly. What’s more, the same number can be shared by more than one customer care centre, making it possible for calls to be routed to the first available representative, regardless of their location. This same feature allows for calls to be rerouted to other customer centres when one has been affected by natural disasters.

Businesses and organizations using these numbers were able to earn revenue either by charging customers for their service or by sharing in the cost of the calls. Ofcom’s new rules, however, will put an end to this soon.

Ofcom, isn’t responsible for the allocation of numbers to organizations or public services. However, they did try to get businesses to use an alternate number range (03 numbers) which cost no more than any other national number (01 or 02 numbers). This range has been in existence since 2007 but businesses haven’t shown them a preference.

Come August 1, 2009, though, and the advantage businesses have long held over consumers are set to end.