Network operators have now found a way to play around Ofcom's new policy on how you are billed for making calls to service numbers.
Back in July, Ofcom implemented a new policy whereby calls to service numbers like 084, 087, 09 and 118 were to be billed in a way so that access charges and service charges would show separately in your bills. While the change was hailed for bringing in transparency, network operators are now hiking access charges across the board.
These service numbers are usually used by businesses, competitions, directories and helplines and continue to receive thousands of calls, especially from people who wish to cast their vote for popular shows like X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing.
While firms running these popular shows decide the service charge, access charge is levied by your network operator and the latter is now turning to be a major thorn in our wallets. As per an Ofcom estimate, customers in the UK spend over £900 million every year while making calls to service numbers. That will surely increase this year.
Starting November 3, Three will increase access charges by as much as 80 per cent which means you may have to pay up an access charge of as much as 45p for each minute of calls to a service number. An access charge for a call made on the Strictly Come Dancing vote line costs 40p currently and will cost 60p starting November 3.
In August, Vodafone and O2 also increased their access charges significantly. All these hikes followed Ofcom's new policy which was implemented in July.
However, there's a chance you will be able to dodge the hike by taking a look at monthly packages being offered by network operators. A lot of them include service numbers which imply that you'll be able to avoid access charges if you've subscribed to these packages. For example, Virgin Mobile includes calls made to 084 and 087 numbers in its monthly packages.
According to Ofcom, the changes made in July on how callers are being charged will benefit everyone.
"The changes that came in on 1st July have made call charges clearer. Callers can see what they're paying, and where their money is going.
"But some prices have changed, and so we encourage people to shop around for a tariff that's right for them. Phone providers are now offering a range of pricing options for these numbers, including per-minute access charges as low as 1p per minute.
“Ofcom actively encourages organisations to use 03 numbers, which we set up to cost no more than a normal 01 or 02 number. They must also be included in a customer’s inclusive minutes and discount schemes in the same way,” said an Ofcom spokeswoman. In effect, your operator will continue to send you bills where service charges and access charges will be shown separately, but the hiked access charges will mean you'll pay a lot more than you did before Ofcom came aboard. You can avoid this by just being more careful in future.