CAMPAIGNING MP John Healey is keeping up the fight against rip-off Government phone lines, after learning some are still in use more than a year after they were banned.
His two-year campaign against 0845 numbers – which cost callers up to 41p a minute – reached a milestone in December 2013 when Government guidance ruled they should not be used for public helplines.
It came after Mr Healey’s research found hundreds of 0845 and 0844 phone lines – including 87 per cent of those run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – were in use, costing the public millions.
Now, more than a year after the ban, there have been reports that people are still being advised to call high-cost lines.
The MP said: “It is completely wrong that rip-off 0845 numbers are still being given out when a cheaper alternative exists, and it is completely wrong that the Government haven’t got their act together and scrapped every single one of these numbers, more than a year after they were outlawed.
“It seems the Government are still intent on ripping off some of the poorest people, by forcing them to run up big phone bills making essential calls to government services.
“This is unfair, unjust and against the Government’s own rules. Any remaining numbers need to be scrapped immediately.”
The DWP started using cheaper 0345 numbers a year ago in March 2014 as a result of Mr Healey’s campaign.
But he was also told at that time by the Secretary of State that Ministers would keep the 0845 numbers “as long as industry charging make this necessary.”
Iain Duncan Smith went on to provide a list of around 1,200 0845 numbers that were still in use then by DWP, and said he ‘anticipated’ that 0845 numbers would eventually become redundant.
The Cabinet Office guidance said that if both numbers are in use, the 0345 must be the primary number.
Now Mr Healey wants to keep up the pressure and has demanded to know from Mr Duncan Smith which 0845 numbers still in use by DWP and the date they will be scrapped. He has also asked for confirmation that all printed and online contact details only display the 0345 number.
Mr Healey was voted ‘constituency campaigner of the year’ last year out of the country’s 650 MPs, partly for his fight against 0845 numbers.
As part of the campaign he published a report, The Telephone Tax, which revealed two thirds of government phone lines were 0844 or 0845, including for Disability Living Allowance, Carers Allowance, Victim Support, the Bereavement Service and Student Loans Company.
The report led to inquiries by the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee, which found 084 numbers cost the public £56m in 2013. The influential bodies ruled they should not be used.
The reports forced the DWP into a humiliating climb-down, just months after Mr Duncan Smith dismissed Mr Healey’s arguments and said the costs to customers were “beyond DWP control.”
Mr Duncan Smith had insisted on pressing ahead with high-cost lines, even making new numbers for Personal Independence Payment and Universal Credit 0845.