Basic rate pledge for phoning firms

Herald Series: Jo Swinson has announced measures to stop consumers from having to call premium rate phone numbers Jo Swinson has announced measures to stop consumers from having to call premium rate phone numbers

Customers calling helplines to complain about faulty items or incorrect orders will no longer have to pay more than the basic rate, the Government has announced.

Consumer Minister Jo Swinson said the new right would end expensive premium 084 and 087 numbers for customers calling airlines, train operators and major high street and online retailers.

Many firms already offer freephone or basic rate numbers but consumers can find that some traders provide an 0800 or freephone number for pre-contract calls to attract new customers but then only offer expensive premium rate numbers when the product or service has been paid for.

Everyday examples, such as a security company offering a freephone number for new enquiries yet expecting existing customers to call an 0844 number to report a fault, will be stopped under the measures.

Ms Swinson said the Financial Conduct Authority was committed to considering whether it could introduce similar measures for those calling banks, insurance companies and investment brokers.

She also said the Cabinet Office would publish guidance for departments' use of number prefixes "shortly", adding that the Government "believes it is inappropriate for callers to pay high call charges for accessing vital public services".

The move follows a Public Accounts Committee report last month that found more than 100 million calls by the public to central Government departments were charged at a premium rate.

Ms Swinson said: "For too long, some businesses have been trying to extract every extra penny from their loyal customers.

"From next year, if something goes wrong with a cooker, or commuters want a refund on their season ticket, they will now pay the same to phone a helpline as they do to call friends or family.

"We want consumers to be confident to shop with a range of traders. The new rights announced today will mean consumers are entitled to the same level of protection whether they are purchasing goods or services online, at home or in a shop."

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "This is a victory for the 63,000 people who supported our Costly Calls campaign calling on all companies and public bodies to provide basic rate numbers for all customer service and complaint telephone lines.

"We're pleased the Government has extended the Consumer Rights Directive to include travel firms and that it has now agreed and clarified that basic rate does not include pricey 084 or 087 numbers.

"We look forward to seeing the guidance to stop public bodies using high rate numbers and we expect the Financial Conduct Authority to introduce similar measures in financial services to ensure that there are no exceptions and put an end to costly calls across the board."

British Retail Consortium director of business and regulation, Tom Ironside, said: "We have been fully supportive of the Consumer Rights Directive and closely involved at all stages including shaping the original proposal and working in the European parliament to secure a good outcome.

"It should make online retail in the UK and EU easier for business and consumers."

The measure is to be included in the regulations implementing the Consumer Rights Directive, which is due to come into force in June 2014.

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