A statement from The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts:
It is not acceptable that vulnerable people are facing some of the highest charges to call central government about important issues such as benefits and redundancy. Call charges are complicated and difficult for callers to understand. Charges to higher rate numbers are greatest from pay-as-you-go mobile phones, relied on heavily by low income and vulnerable households. In its proposed reforms, Ofcom needs to get to grips with this confusing charging system.
Higher rate telephone numbers across central government cost callers an eye-watering £56 million in 2012-13. Expensive 084 numbers make up a third of all central government lines and 63% of calls made in 2012-13, even though the service is no better than for cheaper numbers. Callers to higher rate lines spent £26 million waiting for the telephone to be answered in 2012-13. On top of this, the estimated value of people’s lost time is £100 million.
Departments do not have consistent policies for charging for their telephone services, and the Cabinet Office no longer monitors charges. The Cabinet Office needs to step up and set guidance for Departments so they can focus on minimising the costs of providing telephone lines for the taxpayer and user. Changing all higher rate numbers to cheaper 03 numbers would save callers £29 million a year, at an annual cost to Government of only £7 million.