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UK government hangs up premium customer service numbers

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7th Aug 2013
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UK consumers will no longer be forced to pay premium prices when calling customer helplines as the UK government has prepares to ban expensive service phone lines.

Consumer minister Jo Swinson has announced proposals that will stop traders such as Argos, Royal Mail and energy suppliers charging more than the basic rate of a phone call for their customer service phone lines. 

However, some sectors will escape the ban including government departments and the transport and financial service industries.

Richard Lloyd, exec director of Which? said of the proposals: “It's unbelievable that companies would add insult to injury by charging their customers a premium to make a complaint. The proposals to end this practice are long overdue, so it's encouraging to see the Government tackling this issue.”

According to the consumer watchdog, consumers waste nearly £2bn a year call premium phone lines and in 2009, they made up 12% of the total call traffic volume in the UK.  

David Hickson of the Fair Telecoms campaign told The Telegraph: “This is a great step forward. This is a Government department saying for the first time that it is unacceptable to use premium rate lines for customer service and complaints.

“It puts huge pressure on the likes of the Department of Work and Pensions, the Citizens Advice helpline, the banks and the transport companies to follow suit, regardless of what the proposals state. For me the tide is beginning to turn.”

Government department Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) was slammed earlier this year for costing callers £136m a year due to lengthy delays in answering calls.

The proposal to ban premium customer helplines could come into force as soon as early as next year, and also includes plans to give consumers 90 days to cancel a contract and receive a full refund if they have been misled or bullied into agreeing to it. 

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