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Ofcom UK Tackle Consumer Harm Caused by Cash for Calls Schemes

Friday, Dec 1st, 2023 (11:25 am) - Score 1,200
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The UK telecoms and media regulator, Ofcom, has today launched a new consultation that looks set to tackle the risk of consumer harm from so-called “cash for calls” schemes. This will work by making clear that revenue sharing on certain phone number ranges (e.g. 084 and 087) will not be permitted.

For those who aren’t familiar with them, cash for calls schemes work by inducing callers to use their inclusive free minutes in their call package to make lengthy or repeated calls in return for a reward (i.e. cashback for making phone calls).

Such schemes require revenue sharing in order to work, which occurs when a phone provider shares part of the revenue it receives for terminating phone calls directly or indirectly with the person receiving the call (the called party), or with the person making the call (the calling party).

Ofcom naturally keeps an eye on such things via their rulebook for UK phone numbers – called the National Telephone Numbering Plan. But Ofcom is concerned that the current revenue sharing rules in the Numbering Plan have developed in an ad hoc fashion, which has led to some inconsistencies.

For example, the Numbering Plan makes specific provision for revenue sharing on certain ranges (for example 084 and 087), but in other cases is silent as to whether revenue sharing is permitted. “This may appear to allow revenue sharing to take place in ways which could give rise to consumer harm,” said Ofcom.

Ofcom’s Proposed Changes

We have reviewed each number range in the Numbering Plan to assess whether it is appropriate for revenue sharing use and are making the following proposals:

01/02, 03, 055, 056, 070, and 076 numbers

These number ranges support a variety of services. However, it was not intended that communications providers should share revenue with any other party to a call. We are therefore proposing to clarify that it is not permitted to share revenue, directly or indirectly, with either the called party or calling party on these number ranges.

084 and 087 numbers

Our rules allow these ranges to support a micropayment mechanism for callers to pay for services by sharing call revenue with the called party. This will not change as a result of the proposals we are making in this consultation.

However, we are proposing to prohibit revenue sharing with the calling party. This form of revenue sharing is an important mechanism for ‘cash for calls’ schemes which encourage customers to artificially generate calls for monetary gain. Such activities may undermine the availability in bundles of inclusive calls to 084 and 087 numbers, which are important to consumers who often have limited awareness of the price of calls outside their bundle.

07 mobile, 09 and 118 numbers

We are not making proposals in relation to these number ranges.

In the case of 07 UK mobile numbers, any prohibition on revenue sharing would apply to SMS/MMS as well as voice calls. We are inviting comments on whether such a prohibition would have any adverse consequences. Although there may be a case for clarifying revenue sharing rules in relation to mobile calls, it would require further work to establish the full impacts and benefits of such a proposal on the market for SMS/MMS text and media messages.

The 09 (premium rate) and 118 (directory enquiries) ranges are intended to offer a micropayment mechanism for callers to pay for services by enabling the sharing of call revenue with the called party. As these calls are rarely included in call bundles, cash for calls schemes are unlikely to arise. Consequently, we do not see a need at this time to prohibit revenue sharing with the calling party.

Withdrawal of the 082 internet for schools number range

We are also proposing to update the Numbering Plan to remove the 082 internet for schools number range. This range was used for dial-up internet services but is now obsolete and unused. All 082 number allocations have been returned to Ofcom.

Ofcom intends to consult on all this until 2nd February 2024 and, assuming all goes to plan, the regulator will then issue a statement setting out their plans during Q2 2024 (spring).

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Mark-Jackson
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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
4 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

    How does this amount to “consumer harm”? A few consumers are using minutes within their allowance and getting a small amount back from the called number operator. That’s a market at work, doing what it should within the rules.

    But along comes the plodding dinosaur that is Ofcom (brain the size of a walnut), and undoubtedly prompted by the telcos, decides this is a bad thing. Why is it a bad thing? Because the network operators regard unused minutes as extra profit, and they don’t want to share the pie with other companies or (worst of all) dirty, unwashed customers. They’ll have made an argument that this is somehow unfair, and puts up costs which have to be passed on to all customers, and the gullible, weak minded fools at Ofcom have said “oh, yes, we understand, that’s very bad for you, we’ll leap in and stop this!”.

    Quite remarkable that Ofcom do nothing at all for real consumer harm such as unduly long broadband fixed terms, in contract price increases, unfair early exit terms, or poor customer service. But when a few consumers find a way to reduce their net bill, then Ofcom leap into action. What a useless, useless bunch of oxygen thieves.

    1. Avatar photo Tom says:

      It’s consumer harm, because if a few people do this, there is no adverse effect, the market working as you put it will attract other people, and then others and soon operators will start limiting the in bundle calls to those ranges again.

      By preventing this getting out of control they are preventing that easily seen adverse outcome

    2. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Wow. An Ofcom shill. Fair enough, let the operators limit bundles, see how that goes for them – after all, this is supposed to be a market. Seems to me that Ofcom and the telcos don’t want it to work like a market.

  2. Avatar photo RightSaidFred says:

    Just checking my understanding here…people are being encouraged by premium phone number companies to use their bundle minutes to call them on the basis that they’ll then share the revenue (or some of it) with the caller using those minutes. Presumably, the mobile phone operators are the ones then having to pay the cost of the premium line calls, with their customers also then getting cashback.

    And this is somehow legal?

    Reads just like the premium line businesses are scamming the mobile operators using their own customers.

    The consumer harm here is the ridiculous cost associated with inadvertently going over your allocated minutes, or otherwise not being aware that the mobile operators are intending on removing those inclusive minutes from their packages.

    What seems most odd here is that OFCOM even allows this kind of crap at all.

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