Clearer charges are coming for 084, 087, 09 and 118 telephone numbers. Ofcom’s programme to simplify non-geographic numbers has been ongoing for several years now. Following extensive consultation, the regulator confirmed that the Unbundled Tariff will be introduced.

It’s already been exposed that calls attract a Service Charge, to the benefit of the user, and part of the changes mean its level will have to be declared. But will users be happy to draw attention to it now or will they wait to be compelled to do so?

Why the need for the Unbundled Tariff?

Consumers are only ever provided with composite, or bundled, call rates. These comprise of the charge which the Service Provider called imposes — the Service Charge — and the amount their own telephone company charges — the Access Charge. Thus, it isn’t clear what proportion of the aggregate charge each party is responsible for.

Today, Service Providers — including goverment departments and many businesses, large and small — use 0843, 0844, 0845, 0871, 0872, 0873, 09 and 118 numbers without declaring their Service Charge. When exposed many will find such a charge difficult to justify.

Phone call companies impose high Access Charges. Mobile operators levy bundled prices of up to 41 pence per minute, which means Access Charges of up to 39 pence per minute. At the other extreme, Service Providers often display the abnormally low BT bundled cost, which is free of Access Charge.

What is the Unbundled Tariff?

Under the Unbundled Tariff regime the Service Provider will declare the charge it sets — the Service Charge. This is the same irrespective of the telephone company used to make the call, whether it be a fixed or mobile service.

A single per-minute Access Charge for each telephone package/tariff will apply to calls to all Unbundled Tariff numbers. This will be advertised by each phone company in its promotional literature and pricing information.

Thus, the total cost of any one call will be the Access Charge levied by the caller’s provider plus the Service Charge levied by the Service Provider.

What will the level of Service Charges be?

Ofcom has recently consulted on the finer points of the Unbundled Tariff, which includes levels of Service Charge. They are expected not to be too disimilar to what they are now. For 0845 that is around 2 pence per minute; 0844 up to 7 pence per minute; 0871 up to 13 pence per minute, rates quoted here being inclusive of VAT.

Consideration by Service Providers

If you are a Service Provider think about whether you can justify your Service Charge. It may be that you are forbidden from levying such a fee now, or when the Consumer Rights Directive law comes into force in the UK you may be prohibited from doing so.

If you can’t stand by a Service Charge then you will have to change your number. Numbers which begin 03 are non-geographic and don’t carry a Service Charge. The cost of calls is no more than to a geographic (01/02) number. Calls are included in bundles and packages on the same basis as calls to geographic numbers. This applies to landlines, mobiles and payphones equally.