Raising confidence in telephone numbers - Ofcom

We are allocating new 03 numbers to increase certainty, trust and confidence in the numbers that consumers use to call public services, voluntary organisations and companies who want a national presence

1.9 The original purpose of those non-geographic numbers starting with 08 (and '09') was as a single point of contact for those businesses and public services which have a national presence and identity. These numbers also allow businesses and public sector bodies that make services available to the public to make charges using a micro-payment mechanism known as 'revenue-share', whereby they take a share of the charges paid by the caller; this capability is widely used.

1.10 However, consumers have a poor level of confidence in many 08 numbers. Many people significantly over-estimate charges for these numbers, so are deterred from calling them. Many are not aware of the nature of revenue-share, and a number of 'scams' have emerged which exploit that system. Negative views on 08 numbers are exacerbated by their use for some services (both public and private) that customers view as essential. Many calls to chargeable 08 numbers also relate to services to which they are 'locked in'.

1.11 As a result of these factors there has been a substantial erosion of consumer trust in 08 numbers. Ofcom has already taken some steps to restore this trust in its Number Translation Services Review ('the NTS Review')

1.12 As well as consumer confidence issues, most of the 08 ranges that are currently in use are projected to run out in the next few years, due to strong growth in underlying demand. There are enough spare 08 numbers for these services, but we want to take this opportunity to make more numbers available in a way that benefits consumers.

1.13 We therefore are creating a new type of number - starting with 03 - for those organisations who require a national presence, but who do not wish to make an additional charge to consumers for contacting them. We expect the new range to become trusted by consumers as covering clearly-understood services and price ranges. The new range will meet the need for consumer certainty and confidence in making calls, mainly due to the charging features of 03 numbers:

  • consumers will have a clear understanding of the price that they are paying for a call, mainly as call tariffs and call discounts will be required to be the same as if the consumer was calling a geographic (01 or 02) number. This will apply to all call minutes, including ones that are part of the customer's inclusive minutes; and
  • the use of revenue-sharing will be forbidden on this new range. Consumers calling these numbers should be confident that they will be paying only for the call, and not for any additional services provided by the organisation being called.

1.14 Ofcom intends that these requirements will apply to calls from all CPs on all lines - whether a BT line, any other fixed line, a mobile or a payphone. We are conducting a short further consultation (see paragraph 1.30 to 1.31) with a view to implementing this requirement. Subject to the outcome of this consultation, we expect the requirement to be in place before customers are able to call 03 numbers.

1.15 The 03 range will thereby address the key customer concerns about many 08 numbers, will align with consumer expectations, and so should increase their willingness to make calls.

1.16 In addition, 03 numbers will retain service provider ('SP') benefits that are available on 08 numbers, such as managing call volumes in a flexible way and collecting useful call data. We expect 03 numbers to be attractive to a variety of SPs, including public services. The Varney Review on the delivery of public services, published as part of the Chancellor's pre-budget report in December 2006, indicated the likely widespread adoption of 03 numbers by public bodies.

1.17 To promote early adoption of 03 numbers, we are making 03 numbers available so that all SPs will have a good choice of different 03 numbers:

  • memorable numbers, such as ones starting with '0300' and '0333';
  • a specific part of the 03 range - all numbers beginning with '030' - for use only by public bodies and not-for-profit services; and
  • numbers that are reserved for SPs on existing 08 numbers, so that they can move across to 03 numbers by changing only the '8' digit in their number to a '3'.

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