Mobile calls to 0800 numbers should be free - watchdog

Calls to numbers starting with 0800 will be free from all phones under proposals published by Ofcom today.

The telecommunications watchdog said it wants to simplify prices to cut down on confusion about the cost of calls to non-geographic numbers starting with 03, 08, 09 and 118.

The numbers are used by charities, Government agencies and businesses such as TV shows which feature a public vote.

Research by Ofcom found people paid 1.9 billion to call these numbers last year. Calling 0800 numbers from a mobile costs 40p a minute.

It added that the high cost hit low-income families because they were

more likely to only have a mobile phone at home.

Under proposals published today, 0800 numbers would be free from landlines and mobiles and 01, 02 and 03 numbers would be charged at geographic rates.

Numbers starting with 07 would be charged at mobile rate, 0843/4/5 and 0871/2/3 would be charged at business rate and 090, 091 and 098 numbers would be charged at premium rate.

The phone company's charge and the charge made by the business or organisation would also have to be made clear to customers through advertising.

Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, said: "There is clear evidence of widespread uncertainty and confusion about the cost of calling these numbers. Consumers need to have far more transparency about the price they are going to pay for calls so that they can make more informed choices and so competition can work more effectively.

"Making 0800 free from a mobile and giving people clarity about what they are paying for will improve transparency, improve competition and enhance trust in these important services."

Rekha Wadhwani, chief executive of The Helplines Association, said: "We welcome Ofcom's plans to tackle these issues and agree there is significant confusion around call costs.

"We have been campaigning on the cost of calling freephone numbers, especially charity helplines, from mobile phones since 1999. It is also important that answering calls from mobiles remains affordable for charities."

A consultation on the proposals will take place.

Ofcom plans to introduce the new rates over the next two years.


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