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Effect of changes in consumer law on the use of premium rate numbers

24 March 2014

Who should read this?

This compliance update is relevant to all providers of premium rate services (PRS) that use premium rate numbers (including 087 and 084 numbers) to operate customer helplines (regardless of whether the consumer contact relates to a product or service provided via that number or through other means [1] ), and to the Level 1 providers and Network operators through which these helplines are provided.

Background

In order to implement the EU Consumer Rights Directive, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) published the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 (‘the Regulations’) on 13 December 2013. The Regulations will take effect on 13 June 2014.

Whilst the Regulations do not require the provision of a customer helpline, the PhonepayPlus Code of Practice (12th edition) already requires PRS providers to offer and effectively publicise a non-PRS UK telephone number for consumer complaint and/or enquiry. This has included geographic numbers, and those on the 03 or 084 ranges, but has to date excluded 087 numbers.

The exception to this has been for 087 numbers, where 087 providers have been permitted to use the same number for delivery of a service (e.g. consumer complaint facility for non-PRS products, data capture or chat) and for complaints regarding the service provided on that number. This is currently set out at paragraphs 8.1 to 8.4 of Service-Specific Guidance on Lower Cost Services. 

However paragraph 41 of the Regulations prohibits customer helplines charging consumers at any more than basic rate. This precludes the use of numbers on the 09, 087 and 084 ranges to operate a telephone line for consumer contact about a product already purchased, whether charged via PRS or not, or to cancel a contract.

BIS has produced guidance in relation to the Regulations, which can be accessed using the following link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/265938/bis-13-1368-consumer-contracts-information-cancellation-and-additional-payments-regulations-guidance.pdf

PRS providers should pay particular attention to Section J of this guidance.

Next Steps

PhonepayPlus hereby gives notice of the following:

  • From 13 June 2014 providers who operate consumer complaint facilities on the 087 number range, or other premium rate number ranges such as 084, will be in breach of the Regulations.
  • When the Regulations come into force, providers of premium rate services that operate consumer complaint facilities on a premium rate number range, including 087, 084, or otherwise, must continue to ensure that they comply with outcome 2.6 of our Code relating to ‘complaint handling’, and relevant rules, using suitable number ranges for complaints handled via the telephone.   
  • From 13 June 2014 the expectations set out at paragraphs 8.1. to 8.4 of the current Service-Specific Guidance will no longer apply in respect of other PRS (such as data capture and chat) operated on the 087 number range. Providers of such services will be required to provide and effectively publicise an effective complaint facility operated on a number range which is compliant with the Regulations. The Guidance will be revised and published shortly, reflecting the changes in the law.

What about PRS  that provides technical support?

BIS guidance sets out that this need not come under Regulation 41, provided it is clear to the consumer that the line exists to provide technical support for a product already purchased (e.g. a laptop, tablet, software, machinery, white goods or other electronics), with that technical support being charged separately from the original purchase via the cost of the call.

Technical support lines must not provide the facility to complain about a product already purchased.

What about 087 services which provide something other than a consumer complaint facility?

Where an 087 number is used to provide a PRS (such as chat, conference call facilities, data capture – i.e. receiving an order and/or payment for a product from consumers who call, or other forms of entertainment and information) its use will be compliant with the Regulations as long as no consumer complaint facility is provided on the 087 number.

In addition, such providers will no longer be permitted to use any other 087 or other premium rate number, to receive complaints about the premium rate service.

PhonepayPlus recommends that Level 2 providers who use 087 numbers do the following:

  1. Review their current services against the BIS Guidance in order to ascertain their likely compliance with the Regulations.
  2. Take appropriate steps to alter any services which are not compliant, particularly in respect of complaint handling arrangements for 087 services, or transfer services to a compliant number range.
  3. Ensure that premium rate services continue to operate in full compliance with outcome 2.6 of our Code relating to ‘complaint handling’, and relevant rules, using suitable number ranges for complaints handled via the telephone.

PhonepayPlus also recommends that Level 1 providers and networks that operate and provide numbers for the service types outlined above note the Regulations and conduct appropriate due diligence and risk control to ensure they are not facilitating unlawful practices through the operation or provision of numbers.

Compliance advice

Compliance advice is available free of charge and in writing from PhonepayPlus. Please note that advice from the PhonepayPlus Executive is not binding on the PhonepayPlus Code Compliance Panel, although a record of advice is maintained and taken into account should a service later be found to be in breach of the Code.

Further information

Contacting the Executive:
PhonepayPlus Tel: 020 7940 7474
Clove Building Fax: 020 7940 7456
4 Maguire Street
London
SE1 2NQ

E-mail: compliance@phonepayplus.org.uk
London Website: www.phonepayplus.org.uk

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[1] For example, providers may operate a service on 09 and currently use 084 numbers for complaint handling. The changes are also relevant to such providers.