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Last Updated: Friday, 22 July, 2005, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
Angry viewers rap 0870 call costs
Government agencies make millions of pounds because people have to call 0870 numbers, newspaper reports claim. But they're not the only ones using them - BBC News does as well, something that annoys viewers.

Brian Taylor told NewsWatch that the BBC should be more open how much the calls cost and, below, Michael Stock of Audience Services supplied some answers.

Brian Taylor
Viewer Brian Taylor said 0870 numbers had hidden costs

Brian Taylor's opinion: I think that the use of an 0870 number is dubious to say the least. Very few people realise that this is actually a premium line.

The government make 1.25m out of us by calls to the DVLA, the driver and vehicle licensing centre in Swansea. Doctors' surgeries are using 0870 numbers now, everybody uses it and I think it's manifestly wrong.

I refer in particular to the BBC's Breakfast programme, where Natasha Kaplinsky, Dermot Murnaghan, Bill Turnbull and others are all exhorting us to call them but we never know what the cost of that contact is going to be.

Do the decent thing and advise your callers the exact cost of their call
Brian Taylor

On ITV's breakfast programme, GMTV, they actually do state, clearly and concisely, the cost of each communication. The same goes for their news programmes in general.

If you open the front cover of the Radio Times you'll see they all advertise an 0870 number for contact.

The trouble with these lines is that no one knows, unless they are told, exactly what the cost of their call might be. That is in the hands of the line owner - in this case, the BBC and its associated affiliates.

I challenge you to do the decent thing and to advise your callers the exact cost of their call to you. You are paid to bring us the news and that should be the end of the matter. No more profiteering at public expense.


Michael Stock
Michael Stock denied that 0870 numbers were premium rate

Michael Stock's response: Firstly, I should say that 0870 numbers are not premium rate numbers. Those are used very sparingly by the BBC and are regulated by our own internal editorial policy team and externally by Icstis, the official regulator.

With 0870 calls, the rates vary based on the operator and time of day and length of call and if you're calling from a mobile. They vary between 8p a minute if you're calling during the day to 5p in the evening and 3p at weekends.

What matters most to our audience is what the average is - and for nine out of 10 of the audience, it costs no more than 21p to ring the BBC.

And it's worth pointing out that the BBC doesn't make any money from these calls. A rebate is available to organisations who use 0870 numbers - but the BBC has waived its right to this in return for better telephone services for the audience.

Not only the BBC but the industry has to work harder to let people know what calls cost
Michael Stock

The BBC has got free numbers, when you have a helpline or when the audience is giving money to a good cause. We do use 0800 numbers in those situations.

But if the BBC was to pay for the audience to ring in... we wouldn't have as much money for the programmes.

We don't think it would serve the audience more. Two-and-a-half million members of the audience ring the BBC each year.

For those individuals the cost of a call - less than the price of a stamp - is not a barrier. It's really about value for money for the licence fee payer.

Another reason why 0870 numbers are used is because of their technical benefits. Unlike geographic numbers based on a town or city, calls to 0870 numbers can be switched to be handled by our teams in, say, Manchester or Glasgow or Belfast, so we can respond to peak demands.

I think that not only the BBC but the industry has to work harder to let people know what calls cost. The regulator, Ofcom, is going to publish proposals next month because there are a lot of issues about this range of numbers.

One thing the industry needs to do is to make the pricing a lot simpler and to make it a lot clearer for Mr Taylor and the rest of the audience to know what it's going to cost, so we do agree with them.


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