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News : Questions Asked Over Essex County Council’s use of 0845 numbers
Essex County, UK, Aug 25, 2015 -- A Freedom of Information (FoI) request found that since the numbers were first used in 2006 Essex County Council has received 17.3million minutes of calls – which until July this year were charged at 2p per minute above the standard call charge.
An estimated 2.46million minutes of calls will be made in the next year, charged at 5p per minute, before the authority completes its change over to cheaper 03 numbers.
The numbers are used for a range of helplines including reporting pot holes or child safety concerns – despite government guidance it is "inappropriate" for core public services to use the 0845 numbers.
Lesley Scott-Boutell, Liberal Democrat campaigner and former Colchester borough councillor for Stanway, submitted the FoI request.
Ms Scott-Boutell said: "If Essex County Council aren’t profiting from their use of extortionate 5p per minute 0845 numbers, it begs the question why they are using them at all?
"Instead of investing that money, taken from some of the most vulnerable people in our community, in vital services for Essex it seems it’s lining the pockets of a private phone company.
"I have advised people in my local area they may find it more cost effective to use the local number 01245 430430 until Essex County Council sort this out."
The county council has now introduced an automated message at the start of any call to its helplines detailing what the charges are.
Kevin Bentley, deputy leader of Essex County Council, said: "We aim to have the best and fastest possible service for residents to contact us. Having non-geographic phone numbers allows us to provide a better service and ensure we are always available to the public.
"When our contact centre was set up in 2005, these numbers were charged at a low-call rate, however this has changed with the significant changes seen in the telephone industry.
"We are now moving all main telephone numbers to 03 numbers, which are all charged at low-call rates."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Essex County Council:
Essex County Council is the county council that governs the non-metropolitan county of Essex in England. It has 75 councillors, elected from 70 divisions, and is currently controlled by the Conservative Party. The council meets at County Hall in the centre of Chelmsford.
Published: Thursday, August 27, 2015