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Personal numbers must carry cost warning, says regulator

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Telecoms regulator Ofcom has ordered that from September, callers to so-called "personal numbers", which start with the digits 070, must hear a warning on the call's cost for free before being connected if the call will cost more than 20 pence.

The regulator also said it is considering scrapping the 070 numbers because users think the numbers are mobile phones, and moving personal numbers on to the empty 06 number range. Calls to personal numbers from mobile phones can cost as much as £2 for a 10 or 15 second call.

Callers to personal numbers have in the past called 070 numbers thinking they are mobiles and have been shocked at the sometimes high cost of making the call. That has prompted Ofcom to deal with the price issue by making sure that customers are warned before making any call.

"For 070 PNs [personal numbers] Ofcom has provided a degree of protection to consumers calling those numbers," said Ofcom's announcement. "If a call to a 070 number costs more than 20p (per minute or per call), customers will get a free-to-caller pre-call announcement about the charge involved. Such pre-announcements should be provided from 1st September 2007. Whilst the exact wording of the pre-call announcement may differ between content providers, we would expect all customers to be better protected by this measure."

One person who has been affected by the high price of personal numbers is Jim Clark. He tells this week's technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio of his attempts to find out who was behind a call that cost him £2.

He missed a call on his mobile phone from a number that began with the digits 070. Not knowing about personal numbers and assuming it was from a mobile phone, Clark returned the call, only to hear a message saying that the number did not accept calls.

Suspicious, he phoned his mobile operator's automated billing service to discover that the 15 second call had cost him £2. He then discovered that his wife, whose phone number is similar to his, had had the same experience just minutes later.

"I found the whole episode a wee bit suspicious," said Clark. "I found out the call cost £2, which enraged me slightly. I thought that every 07 was a mobile number, I didn't know differently."

Clark's mobile operator Virgin Mobile refunded him and his wife the £2 call cost, but he said that the public should have more protection against what he thinks was a scam.

"I know that it's only £2 and it's a triviality, but it's something that when I found that nobody could do anything about it it really disturbed me," said Clark. "The fact that Ofcom didn't want to know, ICSTIS didn't want to know, Virgin didn't want to know; three people were all targeted by it and that just isn't right."

Ofcom said that it would have acted had Clark got in touch through its contact centre rather than by including an Ofcom board memo in an email of complaint, while ICSTIS said that it only dealt with 070 numbers if they are being used for a premium rate style service.

An Ofcom spokesman said that the regulator was aware that the fact that personal numbers begin in 070 causes confusion and makes callers think they are phoning a mobile phone. He said that Ofcom hoped to switch personal numbers over to the 06 number range by the end of the year.

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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