Calls to 0800 telephone numbers from mobile phones could be free for the first time under new proposals from Ofcom.
The regulator launched a new consultation today (4 April) to deal with consumer confusion about how much it costs to call businesses, public services and other organisations using numbers beginning with 03, 08, 09 and 118. Ofcom research said consumers make fewer calls to these numbers as they are confused about their cost. Calling an 0800 number from a mobile costs up to 21p per minute, but under the new proposals these calls would be free and brought in line with landlines.
Ofcom suggested revenue sharing numbers, such as those beginning 118, would be standardised and list the charge made by the phone company and the charges paid to the company called. Currently callers are told calls to these numbers may cost 'considerably more' if they are called from a mobile. Under the new proposals, customers will be told 'this call will cost you X pence per minute plus your phone company’s access charge'. Customers will be informed of the access charge when they sign up to an operator's service for the first time.
Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said: 'Consumers are often confused about how much they will pay to call these number ranges. Under our proposals, people will have much clearer information and there will be greater competition on prices.
'By making calls to 0800 numbers free from all phones, we will clear up any uncertainty about making calls, especially from mobiles, to the benefit of consumers and service providers alike.'
The regulator intends to make a final decision on the new rules by 2013.
A Vodafone spokesman welcomed the regulator's attempts to make it clearer for consumers to see how much they are charged when phoning non-geographic numbers. However, he added: 'Any changes to the regime, however, will need to ensure that the companies who offer non-geographic numbers for customer care, sales, entertainment or other services, pay the cost of those calls and the UK's communications companies are not put in a position of subsidising other businesses.'
He said Vodafone provides customers with the cost of calling non-geographic numbers on its website and said it reduced the cost of calling 0800, 0845 and 0870 numbers last year. Consumers can have calls to these numbers included in their call plan for £2.50 per month.
Editor: Graeme Neill