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Warnings issued over Government departments use of higher-rate numbers

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phoneGovernment departments have been warned against using higher-rate 0845 and 0870 numbers with new guidance issued by the Cabinet Office.

Following a recent survey carried out by the National Audit Office which showed that calls to high-cost numbers have cost the UK public over £56m in 2012 alone.

The Government have now said that it is inappropriate to expect callers to pay ‘substantial charges’ to access key public services, which have prompted these guidelines to be issued.

Departments currently using the higher-rate numbers will now be required to access if the use of these numbers is required, and if deemed not, they will be expected to switch to a geographic 01 or 02 number or provide a non-geographic 03 number which allows callers to call from mobiles at the same cost as a geographic call.

If departments chose to continue using a higher-rate number, they must either provide an 03 number as well to give callers a choice or provide a written explanation as to why they have chosen to continue providing that number.

03 Numbers were introduced by telecoms regulator Ofcom to provide a low cost non-geographic number alternative. Calls to 03 numbers are always charged at the same rate as a call to 01 or 02 numbers and are included in monthly mobile minute bundles, making the call effectively free.

These new guidelines have been introduced to keep in line with recent evidence that shows lower income households are more likely to call Government departments from mobiles, as they are less likely than other households to have access to a fixed line.