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Ofcom acts to protect consumers

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Ofcom wants to cut the cost of calls to some non-geographic numbers because of concerns that consumers are being ripped off.

The numbers (0870 and 0845) which are used by call centres, travel enquiries and banks, for example, can cost up to 10p a minute to call - three times the cost of a BT national rate call.

The communications regulator reckons this isn't fair and wants changes introduced that would see the cost of these NTS (Number Translation Services) numbers fall in line with the cost of a national rate call.

And if firms want to continue to charge these higher rates then Ofcom wants them to inform callers beforehand of the higher charges before they hang on the line waiting for their call to be answered.

In a statement Ofcom said that it wanted to address "consumer concerns about the cost of calling voice services offered on 0845 and 0870 numbers".

"These services are often advertised as local or national rate calls respectively, but these descriptions have become a source of confusion as competitive services and tariffs have supplanted a single set of BT prices."

While Ofcom accepts that NTS has been "extremely successful" in delivering new telephone-based services such as online banking, it wants to see greater consumer protection.

Research shows that phone users are confused about the charges with many unaware that the operators are able to generate revenue from the call.

For those aware of this, there is a belief that some call centres, for example, keep people waiting on the phone for longer in a bid to generate extra cash.

"Businesses like call centres, that use 0845 and 0870 numbers, may be able to obtain some revenues for receiving inbound calls from the telephone companies providing their service," said Ofcom.

"Consumers have become concerned that this revenue may provide an incentive for some companies to prolong calls."

The closing date for responses to the consultation is 6 December 2005. ®

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