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Industry Research : Firms Deter Complaints by Using Costly 0845 Numbers
Families are demanding a ban on expensive customer telephone lines amid suspicions firms use them to deter complaints.
Retailers, banks, airlines, holiday companies and some government agencies rely on 0845 and 0844 numbers that can cost more than 40p a minute to dial for a mobile.
Research by the consumer group, Which?, has found widespread anger at the charges amid claims that some households are paying as much as £385 a year while being held waiting on the line. Around two in three – 67per cent - think companies use high-rate numbers to discourage people calling them.
The tactic appears to work, for three in four would be put off phoning customer services if they had to use a higher charging number. At the same time almost two in three said they would be put off making a complaint if they had to dial an 0845 number.
Under recent changes to the EU Consumer Rights Directive (CRD), calls to customer helplines must be charged at no more than the basic geographic rate.
However, financial services, such as the big banks, and public bodies are not included in this legislation. Which? said this means that many banks use 0845 numbers for their complaint lines.
A poll said the average person spends up to 27 minutes waiting each time they phone a call centre (posed by model)
At the moment, travel firms, including airlines, timeshare and package holiday firms are allowed to use the charging numbers, however the Government is currently consulting on changing this.
Which? is calling for action to outlaw the phone lines rip-off under a new ‘Costly Calls’ campaign. Its executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: ‘It’s outrageous that consumers are faced with a high phone bill just to ask a question or make a complaint.
‘It’s no wonder that people think companies do this deliberately to deter them from complaining. ‘We want an end to all costly calls for customer service and complaints, and new rules so that all companies have to provide a local rate number. There should be no exceptions.’
The consumer provider is calling on the new Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to clarify existing rules to stop financial services companies from using costly numbers on complaints lines. It said the rules should be changed so this also covers customer helplines.
It said ministers should extend the ban on rip-off customer lines to the travel industry ‘as soon as possible’. And it said that public bodies to lead by example and ban costly numbers across the board in a consistent way, overseen by the Government.
The government recently announced that it will be dropping the vast majority of expensive 0845 numbers, including at the Department of Work and Pensions, following complaints about call costs. The move could save consumers each year.
The Which? research said organisations using these numbers are destroying customer loyalty. Four in five think that companies who make them use high rate phone numbers do not value them as a customer.
Half have regretted calling a high-rate number in the past year because of the cost; and three in five people say they simply can’t afford to call a high-rate number from their mobile.
The vast majority - four in five - don’t think it’s reasonable for public bodies to have high-rate numbers.
A poll for the firm said the average person spends up to 27 minutes waiting each time they phone a call centre. It suggested some households are wasting £385 a year.
The firm’s chief executive, Liam Griffin, said: ‘0844 numbers can be more expensive to call from mobiles and it’s clear from this survey that most people have no idea of the costs. Our customers told us they would prefer to ring a local number, so we’ve listened to them and changed back to our original 0207 number.’
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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More Editorial From Which?
Published: Monday, August 5, 2013