Crackdown on premium rate lines

Brands which use premium rate numbers will now have to sign up to a register and must adhere to a new stricter code of practice, drawn up by industry regulator PhonepayPlus (PPP).
The use of premium rate numbers is a highly contentious issue, with consumers often being hoodwinked into dialling numbers – many found on search engines – and charged up to £1.53 a minute.
A number of websites have emerged that offer numbers for information services, ranging from Government helplines to customer service lines for high street retailers. But the numbers are premium rate numbers for information that is generally available for free elsewhere.
Last month, two companies, AT Telecom and Customer Service Helplines (UK), were fined £50,000 each for misleading consumers and failing to make the price of calling the premium rate numbers clear to consumers.
Now, PPP is aiming to tighten up use of these services. It is also overhauling its disciplinary procedures and will aim to resolve complaints informally with brand owners rather than going through formal actions.
A new code of practice will come into force later this year and PPP will change the way it investigates premium rate providers and imposes sanctions on them.
According to a consultation run last year, the new code will create a new registration scheme for all companies involved in the premium rate business for the first time.
PPP chief executive Paul Whiteing and chair of the Code Compliance Panel David Cockburn told an industry conference this week that when the new code is introduced a new investigation system will also be put in place.
They said that PPP would move towards a policy of trying to resolve minor problems informally with companies rather than through the formal complaints procedures. This would provide a “faster and better outcome for consumers”, they said, according to the presentation published by PPP.
It said that 80 per cent of complaints a month are already resolved informally per month following the launch of a complaint resolution team last year.
“PhonepayPlus has been reviewing its approach to investigations and the setting of sanctions,” said a PPP statement. “We will shortly be issuing new procedures for how investigations and sanctions will be managed under the new code of practice.”
Guidance about the new processes, as well as the Investigations and Sanctions Guide, will be published alongside the new code in spring. The code will come into force in September.

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