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Sunday, 18 December 2011

Doctors face regulation as providers of "Premium Rate Phone services"

Premium rate phone service regulator PhonePay Plus has invited over 1,400 NHS GPs and other users of 084x telephone numbers, including NHS Direct, HMRC and the DWP agencies, to present their views on the prospect of having to pay it a fee and submit to its regulation - see this news release.

Ofcom will be consulting on use of PhonePay Plus as a potential enforcer for its revised regulation of 084 numbers, in the New Year. Ofcom will need to apply an effective means of compelling those who benefit from the revenue sharing mechanism to declare the Service Charge which is indirectly paid to them by callers. This applies to all users of 084 numbers, who generally apply the financial benefit to offset the cost of their telephone service, rather than taking it as a cash payment.

PhonePay Plus explains its regulatory role in its consultation document - Call for inputs around the extension of PhonePay Plus regulation to remaining revenue-sharing ranges. This covers services delivered by telephone "which are charged above standard rate to a consumer’s phone bill and/or pre-pay account", including downloading ringtones, voting on TV shows, directory enquiry services and chat-lines.

It explains how its regulatory framework is well suited to deal with those who benefit, on a lesser scale, but in exactly the same way as those who provide the services listed above.

GPs who have evaded the ban in their contracts on use of 084 numbers may wish to comment on the prospect of being regulated in the same way as providers of "adult" chat-lines.

HMRC may wish to express a view on having to pay a levy of perhaps 0.35% of its revenue share from telephone calls to a regulator of its activities.

JobCentre Plus and the Pensions Service may not be wholly content to be classed as members of the same industry as the producers of "the X factor" and "Strictly".

For myself, I hope that as the reality of what is involved with 084 numbers is finally recognised, we will find that all providers of taxation-funded public services at last cease using them. The 03 range of numbers is available for them to utilise geographic anonymity and certain advanced functions, with the option of easy migration to the equivalent 034 number. Calls to 03 numbers are invariably charged at no greater rate than calls to 01 or 02 numbers, under all tariffs, and use of the revenue sharing mechanism is prohibited.

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