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Ofcom calls for end to 0800 charges on mobiles

Freephone should be free, not 21p a minute

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Brits calling freephone numbers for government helplines should be able to make those calls for free from their mobiles as well, Ofcom has said.

Calls to 0800 numbers are free from landlines, but mobile operators charge up to 21p a minute for the supposedly "freephone" numbers, causing confusion to customers. Other 080 numbers, including revenue-generating numbers, are used by government agencies and companies for helplines and sometimes by TV shows for phone-in competitions – but even then, the charges for mobile calls often outstrip those from a landline.

The current state of affairs is confusing consumers and damaging the reputation of companies, Ofcom said in a report published today. The result is that: "Consumers make fewer calls and sometimes go to great lengths to contact organisations in other ways, possibly at higher cost or inconvenience" the report stated.

Unexpectedly high phone bills mean many customers are suspicious that they are deliberately being exploited by companies, by being held on the line unnecessarily for example, the report said. Often though, the companies only receive a small portion of the telephone charges.

Operators cream off the majority of the £1.5bn a year that UK consumers spend on calls to these "freephone" numbers.

Ofcom is responsible for allocating the numbers and regulating how they are used, however the report published today is just a consultation document and it would be mid 2014 before any changes kick in.

Ofcom expect the proposals to be finalised by the end of 2012 and then will start an 18-month transition process. ®

Ofcom Report: Simplifying Non-geographic Numbers - Detailed proposals on the unbundled tariff and Freephone

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