Non-Geographic Call Services
Non-geographic numbers are those phone numbers which are not linked to a specific location. They include 03,05, 07, 08, 09, 116 and 118, and are widely used by business, central and local government, charities and statutory bodies for a variety of activities ranging from information and helplines to voting in TV game shows.
This is a large market which is regulated by Ofcom. In 2009, consumers paid around £1.9 billion for calls to these numbers and they accounted for 12% of the total call traffic volume. Currently, for most numbers there is a limit on how much BT can charge for calls. Other providers are not restricted as to how much they can charge but in many cases landline providers set their call charges around BT’s prices.
Although there is extensive use of these numbers, research by Ofcom has shown that many people are confused about what non-geographic numbers can be used for and particularly how much calls to them cost. This is partly because each phone company sets its own prices and information on pricing can be difficult to find and complex. This complexity also means that it is difficult for the organisation being called to let consumers know how much they will be charged for contacting them.
After carrying out public consultations on simplifying non-geographic numbers, Ofcom decided to implement some important changes which will make it much easier for consumers to understand how much they are paying for calls and who receives the money - these came into force on 1 July 2015. How these changes affect callers and companies receiving the calls are set out in our related website UKCalling.
Key decisions are:
Freephone (0800) will be free to caller
Ofcom has also decided that all consumer calls to Freephone numbers, regardless of whether they are made from landlines or mobiles, will be free of charge to the caller, so ‘free will mean free’. (At present consumers pay for calls from mobiles to many Freephone numbers)
A new tariff structure for revenue sharing ranges – 08 (business rate) / 09 (premium rate) / 118 (directory enquiries)
This will involve splitting and making transparent to consumers the money that is paid
- to their phone company
- to cover the costs of routing and managing the non-geographic numbers;
And the cost of
- receiving the call service; and, where this occurs, payment for the service the consumer is receiving.
Our detail consultations and decisions can be found on our website:
We are currently reviewing some other number ranges to determine how these should be managed in future. These ranges are 055 (used by businesses for corporate numbers); 056 (used by voice-over-internet services); 070 (personal numbers) and 076 (used by pagers). In June 2014 we published our decision to withdraw the 0500 Freephone number range in June 2017.
These changes are likely to affect every phone user and require changes by telecoms companies and organisations which use these numbers. The changes will all come into place on the same day, 1 July 2015.
Ofcom has engaged with industry throughout the development of our proposals. Implementing these changes will require the input of communications providers and those who provide services through non-geographic numbers. Industry working groups are one means of securing the necessary input. These working groups meet on a regular basis to ensure that the changes are implemented smoothly and in a timely manner.
Ofcom concluded a major policy review in April 2006 that will result in a series of changes to the regulatory arrangements for 08 numbers over the next two years. The changes are described in the final policy statement.
As part of its policy review, Ofcom undertook two consultations:
- Number Translation Services: Options for the Future, published in October 2004; and
- Number Translation Services: A Way Forward, published in September 2005.
As part of the policy review, Ofcom consulted separately on a proposal to require communications providers to give equal prominence to their NTS and geographic call charges. The policy statement was published in April 2006 and the new rules took effect in August 2006.
On 23 April 2009 Ofcom published a statement that it would make major changes to the way that 0870 calls are charged with effect from 1 August 2009.
Some NTS services are also subject to Premium Rate Services Regulation (‘PRS Regulation’) which provides additional protection for consumers. PRS regulation is currently applied to services operating on 09 numbers and certain other services. See our Premium Rate Services page for further details.
In the NTS Policy review, Ofcom concluded that PRS regulation should be extended to some services using 08 numbers. As a result, Ofcom extended PRS regulation to include all Sexual Entertainment Services regardless of call price and required those using numbers in the 08 range to move to 09 ranges designated for Sexual Entertainment Services. The policy statement implementing these changes was published on 8 March 2007.
In the NTS Policy Review Ofcom also proposed to extend PRS regulation to the most expensive 08 numbers (those starting 0871, 0872 and 0873) in order to improve consumer protection and pricing transparency. Ofcom published a statement confirming this change in February 2009. PhonepayPlus started regulating these numbers from 1 August 2009.
In October 2004, Ofcom published a consultation document on an NTS call termination market review.
In October 2004, Ofcom published a final direction and explanatory memorandum relating to the method used by BT to calculate its wholesale conveyance charges for NTS calls which originate on or transit the BT network for termination on NTS numbers of other Terminating Communications Providers. The direction required BT to introduce a new billing system (known as INCA/ CLI) by 28 February 2006 and to withdraw the NCD methodology previously used.
In September 2005, Ofcom published a statement setting out its methodology for calculating the NTS retail uplift charge and Premium Rate Services bad debt surcharge and confirming its decision to set SMP services condition AA4(f) to regulate charges for the NTS retail uplift and to modify SMP services condition AA11 to regulate the Premium Rate Services bad debt surcharge.
In July 2006, Ofcom concluded its review of telephone numbering. Amongst other things this set out plans to simplify the descriptions of 08 numbers so that they can be more easily understood by consumers and to introduce a new type of number starting with 03 for those businesses that require a non-geographic number but do not wish to charge consumers a premium to call them. Details are available in the policy statement.
Prior to July 2004, the 0845 and 0870 ranges were designated as ‘local rate’ and national rate’ in the National Telephone Numbering Plan. In July 2004, Ofcom modified the designations to reflect the fact that most callers now pay higher charges for 0845 and 0870 calls than for calls to geographic numbers. At the same time, Ofcom advised that the ‘local rate and ‘national rate’ terms may be misleading and should no longer be used to describe 0845 and 0870 call charges.
Ofcom subsequently contributed to Advertising Standards Authority/Committee of Advertising Practice (‘ASA’/’ CAP’) guidance on advertising call charges for 084 and 087 numbers which also advises that the ‘local rate’ and ‘national rate’ terms should not be used.
The CAP guidance is available on the ASA website.