Government dragging feet on rip-off phone lines

John has hit out at government departments for dragging their feet on stopping high-cost calls to public services.

A month ago the Cabinet Office issued guidance banning 0845 numbers across government and recommending the prefix 0345 instead.

The move followed a two-year campaign by John who published a report, The Telephone Tax, revealing two thirds of government phone lines are 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 last year. The influential bodies ruled they should not be used.

The reports forced the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – the government’s worst offender with 148 (87%) of its helplines 0845 – into a humiliating climb-down.

The U-turn came just months after Secretary of State Iain 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.

Today Mr Healey welcomed the Cabinet Office’s ban on 0845s, but said without a deadline for the switch to 03 the guidance was toothless.

The MP has found no department has fully switched to 0345 numbers yet.

Yesterday the DWP announced it was bringing in 0345 numbers for some lines in March – but keeping its rip-off 0845s, which cost callers up to 41p a minute.

Mr Healey said: “Every day that passes the poorest people are being ripped off and forced to run up big phone bills because they are making essential calls to government services.

“Government departments have been told again and again that what they are doing is wrong. They must stop the telephone tax and start playing fair.”