Revenue and Customs: Telephone Services

HM Treasury written question – answered on 2nd July 2015.

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Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Shadow Minister (Defence)

To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, what his policy is on charging for calls to HM Revenue and Customs helplines.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and its supplier, Kcom, do not charge customer for calls to its historic 0845 or current 03000 numbers.

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Ian G
Posted on 11 Jul 2015 3:57 pm (Report this annotation)

Calls to 084 and 087 numbers incur a Service Charge to the benefit of the called party and their telecoms provider. Caller revenue subsidises the service they are calling. Since 1 July 2015 Ofcom has required this charge be declared wherever these numbers are advertised.

As it is inappropriate for government departments to levy such a charge, Cabinet Office guidance published in December 2013 suggested these numbers be replaced by 030, 034 and 037 numbers. Calls to 03 numbers cost the same as calling 01 and 02 numbers and count towards inclusive allowances on landlines and on mobiles. This Ofcom rule has been in place since their introduction in 2007.

Over the last 18 months or so there has been almost total compliance with the Cabinet Office guidance. Callers no longer pay Service Charges to contact government departments but still need to take care in selecting the appropriate callplan for their needs. In the vast majority of cases this will be a plan that offers inclusive calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers at any time of the date or night, any day of the week.

Where a retail telecoms provider offers inclusive calls to 0845 or 0870 numbers the Service Charge still exists but is spread across all customers of that network. This attempts to hide the truth about the Service Charge and pushes up the bills of all customers of that network whether or not they call these numbers. This practice is abhorrent.

Ian G
Posted on 16 Jul 2015 11:52 am (Report this annotation)

While the retail arm of KCom may waive the call charges when one of their own retail customers calls an 0845 number supplied to HMRC by the business arm of KCom, it must be made clear that the business arm of Kcom makes a charge of anything up to 7p per minute when anyone else calls the same 0845 number from any other landline or mobile network such as TalkTalk, Sky, Virgin, Vodafone, O2, EE, Three or any of the myriad other providers.

Until 1 July 2015 this subsidy gained from callers was hidden within the overall call cost, and there are many who sought to deny that it even existed (for clarity, also note that the level of this subsidy was ~2p per minute before 1 July 2015).

Since 1 July 2015, implementation of new Ofcom regulations has required the truth to be revealed. The new regulations for 084, 087 and 09 numbers require the Access Charge and Service Charge components to be separately declared. Declaration of the Service Charge reveals the level of financial benefit gained by the called party and their telecoms provider. Declaration of the Access Charge reveals the amount of the call cost that is retained by the caller's provider.

Thankfully, most government departments have evaded the need to declare a Service Charge by moving to 0300 or 0345 numbers. Calls to 03 numbers cost the same as calling 01 and 02 numbers and count towards inclusive allowances on landlines and on mobiles. Revenue sharing is not available on these numbers.