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Departmental Telephone Services

Volume 481: debated on Monday 20 October 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what agencies or units for which his Department is responsible require the public to make telephone calls to them on numbers which charge more than the national call rate; and how much income each such agency derived from such charges in each of the last three years. (225710)

The main telephone numbers used by the Department for Work and Pensions are 0800 and 0845. The use of these 08 numbers allows the Department opportunities to reduce customer confusion by minimising the volume of contact numbers advertised to the extent the Department can control this to offer free calls or low cost calls to the majority of our customers.

For 0800 numbers, which are typically provided for our claim lines, the call is free for customers who use BT landline or public call box facilities. BT remains the service provider with the largest market share. Many other landline service providers do not charge for these calls, but this cannot be guaranteed by the Department as the contract is between the customer and his service provider and can be subject to change. Customers contacting us by their personal mobiles will be alerted that charges will apply if they proceed with the call and if the customer advises us that they are concerned about these charges we will call them back. Again the Department cannot control the charges made by mobile service providers.

For 0845 numbers BT customers pay a charge which is broadly the same as national call rates. Other service provider charges will vary and may be higher. Calls from mobiles are likely to be higher and again the Department will call customers back if they are concerned about the charges.

The Department is currently conducting a review of the issues associated with its numbers and the charges that apply to customers. However it recognises that the telecom market is constantly changing and any change the Department makes need to be sustainable.

The Department no longer receives any income from its use of telephone numbers used to access its services. Prior to December 2007 the Department did receive a rebate of £500,000 per annum on 0845 calls and this was used to help provide free call services for customers.