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Free 0800 mobile calls proposed
Calls to 0800 telephone numbers could be free from mobiles in a bid to tackle consumer confusion about costs, Ofcom has announced.
The proposals are part of plans to clarify the range of costs for calling businesses, public services and other organisations on 03, 08, 09 and 118 numbers.
The vast majority of 0800 phone numbers currently cost mobile callers up to 21p a minute. These would become free under the proposals to bring them in to line with landlines.
Ofcom is also proposing to clarify and simplify charges to 08, 09 and 118 numbers, which include information, banking, directory inquiry and entertainment services. Unless they are using a BT line, callers are unable to tell how much they will be charged for such calls or compare it to the cost of the service being provided.
The proposals would give "clear, transparent information on both" and help consumers regain trust in these numbers, Ofcom said.
Virtually every consumer and company uses non-geographic numbers to call businesses and government agencies like HM Revenue and Customs and NHS Direct, make payments for services and vote on TV shows.
However, Ofcom said research had shown many people were confused about what non-geographic numbers were for and how much they cost, resulting in a lack of confidence and trust in the services.
As a result, consumers made fewer calls to these numbers, providers were discouraged from using them and there was less innovation that might benefit consumers. Ofcom said it intended to make a final decision on the new rules by early 2013.
Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: "By making calls to 0800 numbers free from all phones, we will clear up any uncertainty about making calls, especially from mobiles, to the benefit of consumers and service providers alike."
Consumer Focus director of policy and external affairs Adam Scorer said: "Complex and confusing charges are a huge bugbear for consumers and changes to make this part of the market simpler are long overdue. We would like to see them brought in as quickly as possible."