Phone users are to be protected from high charges for calling 070 numbers after it emerged that one in five calls to these numbers involve some kind of fraud.
Ofcom said it is to cap the wholesale cost of connecting 070 calls – which are often mistaken for mobiles, but cost much more to phone – to help protect callers from fraud and unexpected call charges. Any numbers beginning with 070 are designed to be used as a “follow me” service, where calls are diverted from one number to another, so the person being called can keep their own number private.
But the regulator said it was concerned that these numbers have sometimes been used to defraud people after uncovering evidence of scams, such as missed calls and fake job adverts, which take advantage of consumers’s lack of awareness of these high prices. It said it had found that 20 per cent of calls to 070 numbers involve some form of fraudulent activity.
Ofcom said the new 070 wholesale price cap will be aligned with the existing cap set for calls to mobile numbers – which is currently at around 0.5 pence per minute. It hopes this will also remove the incentive for scams by significantly cutting the revenue available from using these numbers and will also clear the way for phone companies to include 070 numbers in free minute allowances, as they currently do for calls to mobiles.
Under current rules, mobile customers can be charged up to £1.10 a minute for a call to an 070 number.
Jonathan Oxley, Ofcom’s competition group director, said: “Millions of calls are made to 070 numbers, but many people aren’t aware of the high costs of calling them. This can lead to people receiving much higher bills than expected.
“So we’re slashing the wholesale cost of connecting 070 numbers. There’s no reason why phone companies shouldn’t pass this saving on to their customers as soon as possible.”
The regulator said there would be a 12 month “implementation period” before the cap comes into effect to allow providers who offer 070 number services to comply with the new rules. This may include changing their billing systems and contacting their customers, or even moving to a different number range.
Wholesale mobile charges have decreased significantly over recent years. In 1998, they were more than 13 pence per minute on average, but have been progressively decreasing, dropping to around 0.5 pence per minute today.