By Daniel Hunter

Ofcom has announced its intention to implement major changes to how telephone numbers are charged, which will make the cost of calling businesses and services clearer for consumers.

The central measure is designed to tackle consumer confusion1 about how much it costs to call companies, public bodies and other organisations on numbers starting 08, 09 and 118. Services provided on these ‘non-geographic’ numbers include information, banking, directory enquiry and entertainment services.

Currently, unless using a BT landline, callers to these numbers cannot easily tell how much they will be charged. Under rules which Ofcom today confirmed it expects to introduce, consumers will pay a single ‘access charge’ to their phone company for all calls to these numbers, plus a ‘service charge’ to the company or organisation they are calling.

Phone companies will inform their customers of their access charge when they sign up to a new service, and it will appear on bills; while service providers will specify the charge for their service wherever they advertise or communicate it. Consumers will therefore be able to understand the exact cost of making the call by adding the access and service charges together.

Ofcom also intends that calls to 080 (Freephone) numbers will be made free from all telephones. At present some phone companies, particularly mobile providers, charge for calls to such numbers.

In order to implement the changes, certain ‘legal instruments’ are required; these are being published today in draft form. In addition, there are some aspects of Ofcom’s evidence and analysis which stakeholders have not previously had the opportunity to comment upon, and which are being presented for stakeholder review.

Ofcom is consulting on these remaining points and proposed legal instruments, and expects to publish a statement confirming final decisions by the summer. This will include confirmation of the date on which changes will be introduced.

The changes will affect all telecommunications operators and most businesses and consumers across the country. They represent a fundamental restructuring of call charging which will require reasonable time for operators to implement. For that reason, Ofcom will be allowing 18 months from the conclusion of the review to the introduction of the changes.

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