Ofcom and the UK telephone industry are working together on a major new consumer information campaign to explain the biggest changes to calls in more than a decade.
The six-month national campaign is planned to launch in January 2015, under the banner UK Calling. It will explain two important changes coming into effect on the same day* in summer 2015: clearer call rates for 08, 09 and 118 calls; and Freephone (0800 and 0808) calls becoming free from all mobiles.
From January, UK Calling information will be provided directly to landline and mobile customers, using channels such as paper and online bills, text messages, customer magazines, social media and high street stores. There will also be advertising across national newspapers, radio stations and online.
Ofcom, the communications regulator, is co-ordinating the campaign, supported by the UK’s largest telephone providers: BT, EE, O2, Sky, TalkTalk, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone. KC, the major operator in Kingston upon Hull, is also involved in the campaign. The changes themselves will apply to all consumer mobile and landline phones in the UK.
CLEARER CALL RATES
Ofcom research PDF, 138.4 KB has previously shown that consumers are confused about how much service numbers cost, and lack confidence in using them. The UK Calling changes are designed to address those problems.
The campaign will explain that, from next summer, charges will become clearer for all consumer calls to the thousands of numbers that start 084, 087, 09 or 118.
Virtually every consumer in the country uses these ‘service numbers’ in some way - whether for finding out information or contacting a business, government department, entertainment or directory-enquiry service.
Currently, callers to these numbers are not generally told by the service provider how much they will be charged. Under the new rules designed by Ofcom and coming into effect next summer, consumers calling service numbers will see the cost split out into an ‘access charge’ going to their phone company, plus a ‘service charge’ set by the company or organisation they are calling.
Phone companies will be responsible for setting their access charge, making it clear to consumers on their bills and informing new customers of the charge when they sign up to a contract.
Separately, the service provider - the party being contacted - will specify its service charge wherever it advertises or communicates the phone number.
Consumers will therefore be able to understand the exact cost of making the call by adding the access and service charges together. They will also be able to compare the prices of different service providers more easily, and also choose a provider with a competitive access charge when signing up to a new landline or mobile deal.
WHAT CALLERS WILL SEE
Currently, callers are given information such as:
“Calls cost xp per minute from a BT landline. Calls may vary from other landlines and calls from mobiles may cost considerably more.”
Under the new system, the cost of calls will be explained in a simpler format such as:
“Calls cost xp per minute, plus your phone company’s access charge.”
FREE WILL MEAN FREE
At the same time, Freephone numbers which begin 0800 or 0808 will become free for consumers to call from mobile phones, just as they generally are from landlines.
Ed Richards, Chief Executive of Ofcom, said: “For a long time there has been a lack of transparency in the cost of calling 08, 09 and 118 numbers. The existing rules are no longer serving the interests of consumers, or indeed phone companies.
“These changes will be very significant for UK telephone customers, and are designed to help build consumers’ confidence in using the full range of phone services.
“From next summer, service numbers will be advertised much more clearly, and phone bills will look a little different. We want telephone users to be comfortable with the changes, so we’ll be working closely with phone companies and consumer groups to get the message across as clearly as possible.”
NOTES FOR EDITORS
* Ofcom expects to announce the exact date of the UK Calling changes towards the end of 2014.
1. The changes happening next summer will apply to calls made from residential mobiles and landlines.
2. A less widely-used legacy Freephone range, 0500, will continue to be chargeable from mobiles but is being withdrawn from use by Ofcom in 2017.
3. Advice for consumers on the current cost of calls is available on the UK Calling website.