Super-complaint on the cost of calls made by prisoners

22 September 2008

Complainant : The National Consumer Council (“NCC”), The Scottish Consumer Council (“SCC”) and the Welsh Consumer Council (“WCC”), supported by the Prison Reform Trust (“the complainants”)
Complaint: The cost of telephone calls made by prisoners
Case opened: 24June 2008
Case closed: 22 September 2008
Issue: Whether the provision of telephone services in prisons has a feature or combination of features which significantly harm the interests of consumers. Relevant instrument: Section 11 of The Enterprise Act 2002 (“the Act”)

Ofcom has today published its response to the super-complaint submitted by the NCC, on behalf of the above named complainants, about the cost of telephone calls made by prisoners.

Our assessment of the available evidence during the course of our 90 day investigation suggests that there are a number of issues in the current arrangements for the provision of telephone services to prisoners in England , Wales and Scotland that may merit further action.

We consider that the issues we have identified would be most appropriately and effectively addressed, at least in the first instance, by the government bodies responsible for procuring and managing the contractual arrangements for the provision of telephone services in prisons in England, Wales and Scotland : the Ministry of Justice (which encompasses HM Prison Service) and the Scottish Prison Service.

A non-confidential version of the full response can be found at the link below.

Text published when the case was opened


On 24 June 2008 Ofcom received a super-complaint from the complainants, about the cost of telephone calls made by prisoners in England, Wales and Scotland. The complainants allege that “the interests of consumers are significantly harmed by aspects of the market concerned”. In particular, the complaint alleges that this is due in part to the terms and conditions of the existing service operated by British Telecommunications plc under contract to the HM Prison Service Trust in publicly-run prisons in England and Wales and the existing service for prisons in Scotland operated by Siemens Enterprise Communications Ltd under contract with the Scottish Prison Service.

The main allegations in the super-complaint are:

  • “The high cost of calls from prisons and the extent to which these appear unrelated to the cost of provision;
  • The continuing high level of charges, at a time when most other basic telephone services and other ICT-related products and services have fallen significantly in price;
  • The terms and conditions of the existing service explicitly seek to prevent competition; and
  • The extent to which these issues are caused and exacerbated by the unsatisfactory and secretive nature of the contracts and, the apparent arbitrariness of decisions, since they came into effect, that disadvantage the consumers.”

The complaint also notes wider public policy implications.

The full complaint can be found here:


A super-complaint, as defined in section 11(1) of the Act is a complaint submitted by a designated consumer body that ‘any feature or combination of features, of a market in the UK for goods or services is or appears to be significantly harming the interests of consumers. [ (-1-)]

Ofcom’s consideration of the super-complaint

Ofcom will review the complaint to satisfy itself that the NCC has presented a reasoned case for further investigation and met the criteria set out in the Act.

Once this has been satisfied we will then carry out wider enquiries with a view to testing the claims made by the complainants and will liaise with the various stakeholders in order to form a reasoned view on whether the super-complaint justifies further action.

Ofcom will publish its decision on what action, if any, it proposes to take in response to the super-complaint by 22 September 2008.

Case Leaders : Lisle Alden ( e-mail: and Ian Vaughan ( e-mail:
Case Reference: CW/00990/06/08


1.- For further information on super-complaints see: