Government crackdown on premium rate customer service phone lines.

Fri 9th August 2013

Draft proposals which will force companies to charge 'geographic rates', i.e. normal landline prices, to customers ringing up to complain have been unveiled by Consumer Minister Jo Swinson. 

The crackdown will mean consumers will no longer have to pay premium rates to 084 and 087 numbers access customer service departments for retail, telecoms or utility companies. 

However consumer watchdogs are calling for ministers to go even further after the Department for Business (BIS) revealed the proposals would not cover the transport or financial services sectors. 

Charter UK CEO Paul Clark described the move to ban premium rate customer service lines as great news for both businesses and consumers. "Premium rate enquiry lines are a clear sign of a customer service strategy that is fundamentally flawed, and of a business that doesn't value the voice of its customers," he said.

"These businesses offer Freephone numbers for new customers, but premium rate numbers for existing customers. This is a prime example of the 'avoidance culture' that we are seeing in the UK, with businesses putting unnecessary hurdles in place in order to prevent customers complaining.

"By directing customer complaints towards premium rate phone lines and email contact forms, many companies have been missing out on a vital, free source of feedback that could be used to improve the business. 

Mr Clark points out that banning premium rate numbers will open up the lines of communication between businesses and their customers, and will encourage consumers to come forward with both positive and negative feedback. 

"Rather than seeing this as a burden and a threat, businesses should recognise the enormous opportunity that this customer insight represents," he stated. 

The consumer proposals are out for consultation until later this year but could become law in 2014.