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Labour Reveals Plan to Slash “rip-off” UK Phone Bills and Cut Line Rental

Saturday, November 30th, 2013 (8:11 am) - Score 1,693
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The Labour Party has proposed a new multipoint point plan that it believes could help to cut the cost of consumer phone and calling bills across the United Kingdom, which includes a pledge to force BT and other operators into cutting the cost of line rental. But some of the measures are already expected.

Rising consumer utility bills, especially for gas and electricity, are currently a big focus of the political circus and this is largely due to the growing trend of price hikes that now frequently eclipse the level of annual inflation. As a result the Government are next week set to announce a raft of new measures to tackle the problem (delayed from last week).

So it will of course come as little surprise to find that the main opposition Labour Party are hoping to wrong foot that forthcoming announcement by revealing their own 8 point plan to, in the words of Helen Goodman (Shadow Communications Minister), “protect consumers against the great phone ripoff“.

The plan was reportedly published on Friday but so far we haven’t been able to find a public copy on either Helen Goodman or Labour’s own website, which means that we’re forced to summarise from the closest approximation (The Guardian).

Labour’s Plan to Cut Phone Bills

* Force BT to cut its standard line rental charge.

* Offer the option to receive paper bills without a financial penalty (this often attracts an extra cost of between £1 to £3 per month or per bill).

* Free caller identification to prevent nuisance calls (e.g. BT charges £1.75 a month to display the caller’s number).

* Outlawing of mid-contract price rises, which have been imposed by mobile operators on customers who thought they had signed up to fixed charges. Ofcom are banning these rises for all contracts signed from January 2014 but Labour says the rules should apply to all existing contracts retrospectively (good luck with that).

* Free mobile calls to 0800 numbers (0800 calls from landlines are free but mobile can be more expensive).

* A cap on the amount a customer has to pay for bills run up before reporting a phone lost or stolen (e.g. £50 to prevent bill shocks).

* Easier switching between mobile networks, and between combined phone, TV and broadband suppliers.

It’s easy to claim the high ground when you propose something that’s already set to be introduced, which is the case for several of the above proposals. For example, Ofcom already intends to introduce easier migration (albeit not for FTTP/H or Virgin Media’s cable lines) and the regulator has also moved to tackle mid-contract price rises (we think 0800 calls are also still being looked at) but it’s not a complete “ban” as The Guardian claims (note: the idea of applying this retrospectively seems unlikely to be workable).

Some of the other ideas are all fair game but in the grander scheme of things they probably wouldn’t make a huge difference to your bill and even if you could force BT to cut their line rental then the operator has a habit of simply raising its prices in other areas to compensate (e.g. broadband, calls etc.). Lest we not forget that telecoms prices, thanks to the lower cost of broadband, haven’t actually risen anything like as aggressively as the other utility services and in fact many bundles have become cheaper (here).

The Government must also share some of the blame for pummelling broadband ISPs and phone providers with masses of new laws and regulation, from the Digital Economy Act (DEAct) to the new network-level filtering (Parental Control) requirements, which have cost a significant amount of money to develop and implement. Naturally those costs have to be recouped from somewhere.

In a recent ISPreview.co.uk survey of 998 readers some 74% agreed that the high price of a fixed phone line represented its main drawback and 64% said they would get rid of their fixed line if it wasn’t needed for broadband. Perhaps in the long run the best solution will thus be competition from mobile operators but in the meantime it’s good to see the issue at least being taken seriously. Now if only politicians would take some responsibility for their part in the hikes too.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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