Wednesday, 18 October 2017

55p a minute

As reported a lot in the news, the leader of the opposition raised questions of the Prime Minister over the 55p/minute universal credit helpline number.

There have been many stories on this, that 55p/minute is a rip off.

But what is going on? Is the helpline set up on some super expensive premium rate number?

No it is not.. It was on an 0345 number. This is a number charged at normal rates - the same as calling a normal landline. It is nor premium rate, no money from calls goes to the recipient. It is no different in cost to the millions of normal landline numbers in the country.

You would be hard pushed to find which tariff has the 55p/minute charge, and apparently there is one, a mobile package that, when calls are out of bundle, does actually charge 55p/minute for calling normal landline numbers and so for calling the helpline.

The issue is a stupid issue blowed out of all proportion. It is not an expensive number it is an expensive mobile phone contract which is expensive for all numbers.

Pay as you go mobile SIMs are readily available charging a few pence per minute, and in fact most mobile and landline contracts have an "inclusive minutes" package which includes such calls at no extra cost at all. If someone chooses a mobile contract that charges 55p/minute to call normal numbers, that is their look out - there are a lot of alternatives.

What really annoys me about this is that I would love to get the Prime Minister discussing loads of things, real issues that cause problems, but instead we have parliamentary time wasted on a contrived news story like this.

Some poor telecoms manager will be over budget now after being forced to quickly change it to a freephone number, so will be paying a surcharge for incoming calls from mobiles, when previously they did not have to pay for incoming calls and 99% of callers were not paying either as it was in their call bundle.

Is the country now run purely on news stories, even made up ones?

P.S. I have had some interesting comments on this (here and irc). Basically, if the criticism was valid it would surely equally apply to say, my Doctor's surgery, who have a normal Bracknell landline number which would also be 55p/minute on that tariff. Should everyone that could possibly be called by someone on low income be forced to run 0800 numbers?

P.P.S. Holy crap, there are scammers with web sites quoting 0844 (very expensive) numbers that presumably simply call through to the actual number...

32 comments:

  1. Counter-view: the people most likely to need the help of the benefits helpline are people who are stuck on PAYG, and short of money. So, no "inclusive minutes", and at least an £10 top-up required (when you're budgeting to the penny just to survive) to get cheap call rates.

    None of the PAYG options I can see do cheap landline calls without an expiring bundle.

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    1. Sounds like an issue needs addressing for social care mobile phone contracts - like BT light user thing (or whatever it is called) rather than an issue over the use of a normal number for a helpline.

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    2. Or they could stop people from being forced to use the landline. I've heard stories of people being told that the phone was the only option even when they were in the job centre to sign on and were standing in front of DWP staff at the time.

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    3. Agreed, why should you suddenly get charged a very high amount per minute when going over your bundle limit? It's one of the reasons that people end up paying more per month to ensure that they don't have a chance of going over the monthly limit, though there's newer tariffs that don't have this issue and have a reasonable overage charge.

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    4. Simon: Yes, they'll be stuck paying something in the region of 3p/min for the call (the Three PAYG rate) - or less if they go and use a BT payphone, where you get the first 30 minutes of call for 60p.

      Apparently, they also call you back on request, getting around any call charges entirely - which is generally cheaper than switching to 0800, too.

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    5. Switching network also involves costs - getting your existing handset unlocked and getting a new SIM is not free, either.

      And there are no BT payphones in service near here - there's one in a 30 minute walk, but it's routinely out of service as it gets vandalised (and was out of service again today, having been fixed last night).

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    6. All valid criticisms of mobile networks, not of the number they chose. Maybe, as I say, there needs to be a social care type mobile contract that the largest operators have to offer to people on low income!

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  2. I suspect this could have become a non-story had the ministers on interview said something along the lines of: "The phone number in question is an 0345 number, which is charged at the standard rate for landline calls, and will use bundled minutes as part of any package. There are many different phone tariffs out there, and it's possible to have a pay as you go sim with call costs as cheap as 1p per minute."

    Instead the ministers just stumbled and had no idea what was going on.

    I suspect someone has run out of minutes on their bundle, and been excessively charged while sat in hold for some time.

    1pmobile and 3's 321 tariff are examples of cheap landline calls at 1p and 3p per minute on pay as you go. There's several others on similar rates. Though an hour at 3p per minute turns out to be £1.80, which for someone struggling is rather significant.

    To help cater for the people in real need, they could run an 0800 and 0345 number, that way people who have the spare minutes in their bundle can use the 0345. Hopefully they'll run both in tandem, as it'll take some time for the printed material to be updated to the number too.

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  3. We need 2 numbers - 50p/minute for those short of time and free for those short of money

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  4. Also, on a landline provided by BT under their anytime calls package does not include 0345 (afaict) in the call package so people who have paid for that privilege still get stung at daytime call rates even though it is "a local rate number" and the call package supposedly calls "local numbers" free of charge (note the difference between local rate and local. local rate is non-geographic and thus is always charged even when local numbers are included. Again, that is as far as I can discern, because local doctors surgeries had to change because people like my Nan who has such a call package were being charged a fortune to make appointments on their 0345 number)

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    1. The HAVE TO include 03 numbers in any package for 01 and 02 numbers, sorry. 0345 used to be "local rate" a long time ago, then moved to 0845 which is now expensive. 03 was re-launched as a uk wide number and much be charged and including in packages the same as 01 and 02 calls are.

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    2. But, historically, you would have been correct that "local rate" diverged from "cost of calling a local number" many years ago, making 0345 expensive. But that is quite out of date now, sorry.

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    3. Thanks for the correction. I am now confused as to both why my Nan has recent (within the past few years) BT bills with calls to her GP charged when she has the Anytime Local Calls package (I forget which Option that is) and also why the GP had to switch to using a geographic number (01256) because of backlash from similar people who complained about the cost of calling them.

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    4. Sounds worrying, and worth checking maybe. Historically it was 0345 for "lo-call" which was the same as local rate, but local rate sort of changed for actual local numbers, and then they started call packages (they did not used to be a thing) and excluded 0345. Then Mercury had 0645 to match 0345, both of which were renumbered to various 0845, and then eventually 03 uk wide come along and allow a "mirror" range in 0345 for anyone with 0845 blocks, so some people have moved over (losing revenue in the process).

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  5. Aah I see the news articles claim they were 0844 numbers, so I am quite wrong :-) Again, thanks for the correction.

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    1. OK that is ever worse, as a simple google shows it is an 0345 number. Why would anyone in the press not simply check the number? 0844 can cost a fortune.

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    2. Sorry, I meant the GP numbers were 0844, in reference to my thread above - I replied using the wrong button :-p

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    3. Just found there are scammers running 0844 numbers that call through to them (and many other helplines). Wow.

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    4. Similarly there's been issues in the past of people setting up websites which charge for driving license applications or renewals, skim a bit, and basically add no value. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/motorists-warned-when-applying-for-a-driving-licence-online

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    5. Similarly getting an Umweltplakette (environmental sticker) for driving in German towns: you can pay a small amount direct to TÜV Nord, or rather more to environmentalbadge.com who will do the same thing.

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  6. "Should everyone that could possibly be called by someone on low income be forced to run 0800 numbers?"

    Well that would be madness. My web site gives some strong hints that my business and I offer a premium service for a premium price. But, true, I could possibly be called by someone on a low income and who has (daftly) chosen to sign up to a 55p/min contract. After a few minutes of pleasantries and brief discussion of the caller's IT needs we would both conclude that we are not suited to each other and the call would end, perhaps with a few pointers from me on other firms the caller might like to talk to instead. So, should I have an 0800 number just for that? But I wouldn't put it past Mr Corbyn's Labour demanding such a thing.

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  7. By this argument, it seems the Leader of the Opposition's constituency office is also a 55p/minute call. (London 020 number.)

    O2's out-of-bundle landline calls are charged at 55p/min. Fortunately I never come close to using my monthly allowance of minutes :-)

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  8. "By this argument, it seems the Leader of the Opposition's constituency office is also a 55p/minute call. (London 020 number.)"

    Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I love this. Can a journalist please take this up?

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    1. It's not just the Leader of the Opposition - to phone *any* MP at Parliament "costs 55p/minute".

      Search for your MP at:
      https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/
      They all seem to have numbers in the block 020 7219 xxxx at Westminster. And many have 01/02 geographic numbers for constituency offices.

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  9. Is there any politician left that isn't a worthless shit?

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  10. Not so sure about the telecoms angle but...

    > Is the country now run purely on news stories, even made up ones?

    Yes, we now live in the age of sound bite politics and the perceived need to react to the latest social media huff before it becomes yesterdays news. So not only "even" the made up ones but especially the made up ones

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  11. There are plenty of people charging for 0345 numbers at a non-included rate. Whilst not directly relevant to this situation, it's really common in business phone contracts. Still.

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    1. Ok find me an example, I’ll report to OFCOM and it will not longer be the case. 03 numbers have to be charged at retail on same basis as 01 and 02 including being in bundles. But seriously if such a common practice you should have no problem finding one clear example.

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    2. You don't have to look far, BT do this on many tariffs - especially older plans. As do many of the business telecoms operators.

      Did one just the other day for a charity/museum - 2 analogue lines with BT, recently had alarm installed, now getting massive charges on one line - it's all 03x number calls which BT does not include in the call bundle.

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    3. OK, a URL for a web page explaining said tariff please?

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  12. I note much of the media are still describing this as simply a 55p a minute tarrif for the helpline which is being scrapped. It is simple journalism to check that figure and find out it is a gross simplification. I guess this shows we can't trust any of the media at all any more, as well as our politicians. We are so screwed.

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