Effective from 1 July 2015, Ofcom has made various changes to the way charges for calling non-geographic numbers (numbers starting 084, 087, 09 or 118) are set out under the moniker ‘UK calling’ representing Ofcom’s clear aim to inspire greater consumer confidence in using non-geographic numbers.
As of 1 July 2015, charges for calling non-geographic numbers are to be split into an “access charge” and a “service charge”. Both the access charge and service charge are required to be communicated to consumers by businesses that use non-geographic numbers. Ofcom has brought in the changes as a response to findings that consumers generally have poor awareness of prices and, as a result, are deterred from calling these numbers. Ofcom has found that there are many consumers who value calling organisations directly, despite various alternative contact methods like the internet, email and smartphone applications, and with the market not working well for them, has decided to intervene. Ofcom hopes that as the required changes are introduced, consumers will have greater transparency of the charges for calling non-geographic numbers which in turn will reinvigorate consumer confidence in using such numbers.
Most telephone companies have communicated their access charges to consumers via their various marketing avenues. Businesses are similarly required to clearly display the service charge in all communications where the business is promoting the use of a non-geographic number to the consumer to contact the business. These communications include advertising and marketing materials, press releases, websites, packaging, price lists, TV and radio advertisements, point of sale displays etc.
If they have not done so already, businesses need to contact their TCP as soon as possible to find out the service charges linked to each of the non-geographic numbers that they use. Businesses must then update all the relevant materials which promote and/or advertise the use of a non-geographic number and display this service charge prominently and in close proximity to the number itself. The suggested Ofcom wording to be clearly displayed is as follows:
“Calls cost xp [or xp per minute] plus your phone company's access charge.”
Where a business fails to comply with these requirements relating to advertising and/or promoting of non-geographic numbers, Ofcom may use its statutory powers to bring civil proceedings for non-compliance. In practice, however, the UK calling website suggests that enforcement of compliance with these changes will sit with the Advertising Standards Authority and PhonepayPlus (where applicable). It is understood that the ASA may allow for a short delay in implementation of these new requirements if the relevant business is seen to be taking all steps to become compliant as soon as practicable. If this is not the case, the ASA’s primary sanction for non-compliance is to order that adverts do not appear again in their current form. The ASA also possesses more serious, highly restrictive sanctions for repeat offenders.
Businesses that use non-geographic numbers to enable consumers to contact them will need to ensure that the necessary changes to bring their promotion and/or advertising of non-geographic numbers in line with these changes are made as soon as possible considering the deadline for compliance has now passed.