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Consumer Contracts Regulations – PSA & Ofcom

The Consumer Contracts Regulations mean companies are no longer allowed to charge more than the basic rate for post-contract telephone calls. As a consequence, ringing customer service and complaints lines is now often at no incidental cost to the caller.

Permitted number types are geographic rate, freephone numbers (now that they are free from mobile phones as well as landlines), and; mobile telephone numbers. Geographic rate numbers are prefixed 01, 02 and 03, and the cost of dialling them is invariably nothing due to inclusive packages being the norm these days.

Charges above the basic rate will still be allowed for services that don’t form part of the contract, such as technical support. Businesses are also still free to use such numbers for sales lines, if they so wish.

The legislation, the full official title of which is “The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013” (SI:2013/3134), applies to most sectors; exemptions are listed below.

The financial services sector isn’t covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations. However, the FCA has decided that banks, insurance companies and other financial organisations should not be allowed to charge more than the basic rate. Since 26th October 2015 all firms regulated by the FCA have been required to charge no more than the basic rate for customer service calls.

Guidance

The Government has published guidance on the regulations which clearly explains what is and what isn’t allowed.

In summary, the guidance says that these number types are allowed:

  • Geographic rate numbers, which means any number which starts 01, 02 or 03.
  • A number which is free to call from all fixed and mobile telephone services, which starts with 0800 or 0808.
  • A mobile telephone number, which is prefixed 07 (except the 070 and 076 sub-prefixes).

The guidance also sets out those which are not allowed:

  • Premium Rate Service (PRS) ranges which start with 087 and 09.
  • Other numbers that also convey a Service Charge, but which aren’t PRS; these are prefixed 0843, 0844 and 0845.

Users of 084x and 087x numbers can exchange the second digit, 8, for a 3, with the rest of the number remaining the same. This means that the number 0845 123 4567 could be replaced with 0345 123 4567, for example. Alternatively a new 0330 or 0333 number can be used.

Complaints about firms breaching the regulations can be made to the Citizen’s Advice Consumer Helpline on 0345 404 0506.
Calls count towards inclusive allowances on landlines and on mobiles else are charged at geographic rate – the same as calling 01 and 02 numbers.

Exemptions

The Consumer Contracts Regulations don’t apply to all types of company with the following being exempted:

  • financial services, including banks and insurance companies (now covered by an FCA rule from 26th October 2015)
  • gambling
  • construction, sale of immovable property and residential letting contracts
  • package travel and timeshare
  • roundsmen on a regular route
  • purchases from vending machines
  • single telecommunications connections such as public payphones and public Wi-Fi, including that provided in establishments such as cafés

We think it’s wrong for these businesses to use telephone numbers that charge customers more than the cost of a call to a normal number and are pleased to see a number of companies in the above categories have recently made changes to their customer support lines, ditching their high rate service telephone numbers.

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