Call on me
Ofcom has started a consultation in a bid to make 0800 numbers free to call from mobiles and iron out other confusing call charges.
The communications watchdog's findings could force mobile networks to make free phone numbers, well, free, plus clamp down on the way phone voting is advertised and regulate directory enquiries charges.
Ofcom's chief exec, Ed Richards apparently dubbed the current environment "opaque, confused and uncertain" as he announced Ofcom's plans to make all calls to 0800 numbers free by 2012.
The watchdog also intends to roll out a clearer system for the pricing of all premium numbers, and under the new proposals TV shows like the X Factor could show a specific symbol to show how much a call will cost.
Ofcom said calls to numbers beginning in 01, 02 and 03 would be charged at the same rates they are now, but plans to shake up the pricing of other codes.
Research from the watchdog suggested that the public underestimates how much calls to 09 numbers will set them back, but is scared by the cost of 08 numbers.
It has suggested that service providers such as electricity firms and phone companies should tell the consumer how much calls should cost up front, possibly by displaying the rate on their phone's screen.
It is also believed that directory enquiries services will be affected by the new regulations, although it is not thought that Ofcom is planning a standard price for all the different companies.
Richards said: "There is clear evidence of widespread uncertainty and confusion about the cost of calling these numbers. Consumers need to have far more transparency about the price they are going to pay for calls so that they can make more informed choices and so competition can work more effectively."
Rekha Wadhwani, chief exec of The Helplines Association, said: "We welcome Ofcom's plans to tackle these issues and agree there is significant confusion around call costs. We have been campaigning on the cost of calling freephone numbers, especially charity helplines, from mobile phones since 1999. It is also important that answering calls from mobiles remains affordable for charities."