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Gemma is Solution IP’s Marketing Manager. She writes about trends in the Business Communications and Telecoms marketplace, and specialises in particular in authoring content around Business Communications, Unified Communications, VoIP, SIP and Hosted Telephony.

What are the changes?

The UK’s Telecoms Market Regulator, Ofcom, constantly reviews practices and procedures in the marketplace with a view to making things fairer for the consumer.

Part of this drive to improve the rights of the customer is to review the charges associated with making calls to various Freephone or Non-Geographically located numbers.

With this in mind, Ofcom are rolling out several major changes which take effect from the 1st of July. We break down what those changes are and what they mean for you as a consumer and as a business:

  • Changes to Calling Freephone NumbersOfcom Freephone and Service Number Changes Explained

Freephone numbers are defined as numbers beginning with 0800, 0808, 116 and 0500. The ‘Free’ element of these numbers was, however, always a bit of a misnomer.

Previously, although free to call these numbers from a landline, any user calling from a mobile phone would be charged anything from a few pence per minute to up to 40 pence per minute. The charges the customer actually paid varied widely and from a consumer perspective, were confusing.

Additionally, mobile phone companies often didn’t include 0800 numbers within their minute packages, meaning that calling these numbers from mobile devices was costly and prohibitive.

From the 1st of July, this will now no longer be the case. All calls to Freephone numbers made by mobile phones will be ‘Free’ in the real sense- as in, it won’t incur any charges, meaning users can feel more able to call these numbers whilst out and about without reaping the consequences of a large bill.

For consumers, this is great news. For businesses who own these 0800 numbers, these changes are perhaps not so welcome, largely because the cost of making these calls will now no longer be covered by the consumer but by the company itself. Gamma are predicting a high level of call traffic to move from fixed lines across to mobiles, of anything up to 70%, based on how many people use mobiles on a day to day basis instead of landlines. This will obviously result in end-user bills skyrocketing, which is why most reputable Telecoms companies have been forewarning their customers before the changes come into effect.

One solution to this problem is to consider migrating an existing 08 number over to a number with an 03 prefix. 03 numbers are not affected by the Ofcom changes as yet, are often included in mobile minutes bundles, are in use already by many businesses and are readily recognised by consumers.

  • UK Calling: Changes to Service Numbers

At the moment, when a caller rings a number beginning with 084, 087, 09 and 118, they are given information that lets them know how much the call is going to cost. As with Freephone numbers, the actual cost to a consumer varies widely. According to Ofcom, every year callers in the UK spend up to 250m hours calling these numbers, at a spend of around £900m.

The simple version of what will happen from 1st July with how these ‘Service’ numbers are charged is that callers will be much better informed of any costs they are about to incur before they call the number. Prices will be made clearer on bills and in advertising.

Additionally, the cost of calling any number will be split into two charges:

  1. A Service charge, which is set by the company being called.
  2. An Access charge, which goes to the phone company.

The total cost of the call will be these two charges added together.

It will then become mandatory for a business to advertise the cost of calling their service line on all their online and offline materials, with something like the following message:

‘Calls will cost Xp per minute, plus your phone company’s Access Charge’

What’s Next?

As Ofcom continue to stand up for the rights of the consumer in the marketplace- most recently they have made it easier for unhappy consumers looking to leave their broadband provider to switch companies. They are currently championing the rights of small businesses and SMEs when it comes to their broadband services, and are looking to put together a Code of practice for Business Broadband, where a commitment to minimum upload speeds is expected to feature heavily.  They are also looking to make several more changes in the future that could significantly benefit consumers looking to take advantage of future tech and enhanced connectivity such as a dedicated business Leased Line. They hope to tackle pricing competitiveness with BT and wholesale pricing, the savings of which get passed down to – you guessed it- the customer.

With such strenuous focus on the rights of the consumer, it would be insensible for Tech and Telecoms companies, whether small or large, wholesale or resale, to ignore these developments in the marketplace. As consumer’s rights increase, so does their buying power, meaning one thing: an opportunity for any company with Customer Service at the heart of their proposition to take advantage of these new sentiments and provide quality services centred around a customer’s real business needs and objectives.

 

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