This is the simple summary of a complex final dispute determination by Ofcom published here - Determination to resolve a dispute between BT and each of Vodafone, T-Mobile, H3G, O2, Orange and Everything Everywhere about BT‘s termination charges for 0845 and 0870 calls.
Many public service bodies, notably HMRC and the DWP, use 0845 numbers which are expensive to call from most telephone services. Users of 0845 numbers gain a subsidy from the caller’s telephone company, the cost of which is generally passed on in higher charges. BT alone is prevented from charging higher rates to its calling customers by legacy regulation.
BT had attempted to get in on the act by itself taking a bigger slice of the “revenue share” when its customers are being called. It had attempted to impose charges on call originators according to what they charged their customers. BT claimed that this would have the effect of reducing their charges, rather than boosting its profits. Ofcom accepts that the effect would have been to reduce charges, but has blocked the move for other reasons.
Callers from non-BT lines will therefore continue to pay high rates to make enquiries about Child Support, Pensions, Tax Credits and other benefits and when contacting JobCentres. The same applies to calls to NHS Direct and many other NHS services. These are just some examples of where revenue sharing 0845 numbers are being misused.
It is fundamentally improper for the cost of providing many public services to be subsidised by payments from those who use them. If these 0845 telephone numbers are to be retained then this would appear to be an example of where the cost of addressing the deficit is falling on the narrower shoulders of needy parents, pensioners, low earners, the unemployed and the sick. The cost of providing whatever public services survive the cuts must be shared fairly amongst us all, through taxation, not through charges on those who need to use the services.
The government must react to the news that the cost of calling 0845 numbers will not be falling, by announcing that their use will be ceased forthwith.