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Anyone who has abused premium-rate telephone numbers in the past will be barred from using the numbers again, telecoms regulator Ofcom has said.

Numbers beginning 070, 087 and 09 will not be available to anyone who has used phone numbers to take part in scams, frauds or other dishonesty, Ofcom said. The rules will not apply to the 0870 prefix.

"The new test that we are introducing into our process for allocating numbers to communications providers will focus on the behaviour that uses numbers to cause serious or repeated harm to consumers," said Ofcom in a statement. "We will identify and publish lists of individuals and companies that have a history of using numbers to cause serious or repeated harm. We will not allocate telephone numbers in certain ranges to applicants who are on those lists."

Numbers beginning with 09 are premium-rate numbers and can cost whatever the operator decides to charge, while 087 numbers can cost up to 10p per minute, or more from a mobile, and the company being called can share in the revenue generated.

Numbers beginning with 070 have proved controversial because many people assume that they are mobile numbers but are in fact personal 'find me anywhere' numbers that can cost 50p per minute from a landline or more from a mobile phone.

Ofcom has previously ordered that callers to 070 where the call cost is more than 20p per minute must hear a cost warning before being connected.

Ofcom will create two lists of people and companies who have been the subject of decisions by premium-rate regulator Phonepay Plus, the police or the Office of Fair Trading.

"Inclusion on the list, and for how long, would depend on factors including the seriousness of the behaviour and the individual or company’s past history of using numbers to cause detriment to consumers," said Ofcom.

Ofcom will only refuse to allocate numbers in the case of new requests. It said that communications providers who themselves sub-allocate numbers should consult the lists and refuse to allocate their numbers to anyone on it. It said that it was trusting providers to do this, but that it would regulate directly if that hands-off approach failed.

"We have decided, at least initially, to permit providers to take a self-regulatory approach to introducing a similar consumer protection test into their own number assignment processes. We strongly encourage all providers to do so," it said. "Communications providers may adopt our test as a model of how consumer protection could be incorporated into number assignment decisions. We are publishing lists of individuals and companies to whom we will not be allocating numbers to help them do so."

"We will be monitoring progress to see if, as we expect, this approach proves to be sufficient. If it does not, we will consider whether additional regulation is required," said Ofcom.

Ofcom will first publish a list of people and companies who are under assessment because of past enforcement actions against them. A second list of people and companies who will be refused will be published once that assessment process has been carried out. The first 'under assessment' list will be published on 1st January 2009.

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

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

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