UK businesses who use 08, 09 or 118 service line telephone numbers have just six weeks to prepare for Ofcom's new rules which come into effect on 1st July 2015. The looming changes, which aim to increase transparency in the way in which price information for service line telephone numbers is communicated to consumers, stands to have a significant impact on most UK businesses as they are forced to carry out a complete overhaul of their entire marketing portfolio to ensure that they meet the new requirements.
Under existing rules businesses are only required to communicate call costs for service line numbers if the cost is more expensive than standard calls to geographic numbers. That means that until now most businesses, such as those who charge a standard rate from a BT landline for customers to contact their helplines for example, have not had to state call costs in their advertising despite standard rates varying from consumer to consumer depending on their phone provider and means of calling. Until now such businesses have only had to indicate that "Calls cost £x from a BT landline" and that "Other landlines may vary and calls from mobiles may cost considerably more".
Because the existing position makes it difficult for consumers to fully understand the cost of calling service lines, the new regime obliges businesses to break down the cost of the call into its two constituent parts. Those two parts being the service charge element which is the price charged by the business and the access charge which is the flat price the consumers network operator charges the consumer for connecting a service line call. From 1 July 2015 therefore businesses must state prominently "Calls cost [insert service charge amount] per minute plus your phone company's access charge". The outcome of the new position means that a consumer is only required to know their network operators standard access charge in order to be able to determine exactly what the full price of calls to service line telephone numbers will cost.
Ofcom guidance states that new call charging information must be clearly displayed wherever a telephone number is advertised or promoted and that it should be prominent and in close proximity to the number itself although there is little guidance as to what this means at present and is most likely to be determined on a case by case basis. What this means for businesses advertising chargeable service line telephone number/s is that they need to act fast to contact their number provider to determine individual service charges and update their entire portfolio of consumer facing marketing materials to make those charges clear. There are no exemptions from the new rules and with many UK businesses operating multiple service lines and advertising those numbers widely across a plethora of marketing platforms, time is of the essence if they are to ensure compliance with the new requirements in time for the 1 July 2015 implementation date. Businesses who fail to act risk exposing themselves to regulatory enforcement action by the industries regulators PhonePayPlus and the Advertising Standards Authority.