Calling for end to Government’s rip-off phone rates


Opening a debate on the controversial use of 0845 and 087 numbers by ministerial departments this morning, I called for the government to end the use ofred-phone1 high cost phone lines.

I urged the Government to act ahead of Ofcom’s proposals to simplify the use of “non geographic numbers”, which are due to be published in July. People call 03, 05, 08, 09 and 118 numbers for everything from calling public services and contacting businesses to voting on TV shows. There is a high level of confusion about the cost of these numbers – particularly the 084 and 087 “revenue shared” numbers that can cost up to 41p a minute. Part of the fee goes to phone companies, and part to the host of the call.

I have been contacted by local people understandbly irate that calling government departments leaves them with sky high bills. After questioning government departments about their use of these numbers, I have been shocked by the scale and scope of the Government’s use of high cost phone lines. Over sixty percent of government phone lines are high cost – and the Department of Work and Pensions alone has over two hundred 0845 numbers.

This means vulnerable people contacting advice lines such as the Jobcentre, Pension Service and Disability Living Allowance for essential pensions, work and welfare services are being charged rip-off rates. We know that people on low incomes, who need these services most, often don’t have the security of landlines, contract phones or regular access to the internet. They are reliant on expensive pay as you go mobile rates, and even phone boxes, which charge them a fortune.

The Labour MP John Healey has also been criticising the Government’s use of these numbers – branding the system a “telephone tax.” After a great deal of public pressure, HMRC are switching from 084 numbers to the cheaper 03 range. But we know the use of 084 numbers across other departments and government bodies remains widespread.

It’s simply beyond belief that people calling taxpayer funded phone lines are being taxed again. Some government departments have actually been making money, and phone companies are clearly making a fortune. The use of revenue shared numbers by government, and all public agencies, must stop now.

I believe the government need a full scale overhaul of the way that public telephone services are organised. We need a simple system that ensures all essential calls for public services are free, and makes calling for government help and advice as simple and cheap as possible.

I was therefore pleased to hear the Minister for the Cabinet Office – responsible for the effective operation of the Government – state that the current system “is not working for anyone.” We heard committments for change, and promise for a review of government phone lines.  Like many others who are tired of rip-off phone bills, I will be watching and waiting for improvements.

You can read the debate here.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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