Ofcom pushes profit-free national numbers

03 number range will allow government organisations and businesses to receive calls without taking revenue from the public

Ofcom will introduce a new range of telephone numbers later this year that will allow public sector contact centres to receive calls without profiting from their callers.

The new numbers, which will start with 03, will partly replace the existing 0870 number range. 0870 numbers have become unpopular with some organisations, such as local government and the police, because they receive money from the cost of the call. Callers often think they are paying a national rate whereas in reality they pay far more.

Unlike the 0870 numbers, the 03 number range will not yield any revenue for the called party. Ofcom believes the new numbers will appeal mainly to the public sector, although most of the number range will be available to commercial businesses as well.

"There were concerns about 0870 numbers," an Ofcom spokesman told ZDNet UK. "People were not sure how much they should expect to pay and there was not the right amount of transparency about the sharing of call costs [between the telecoms provider and the organisation using the number]."

The Ofcom spokesman said calls to 03 numbers would be charged as if they were a geographical number starting 01 or 02, and he confirmed that no payments would be made to recipient organisations. "They are likely to be of particular interest for the public sector and not-for-profit organisations," he added.

The 03 numbers have an advantage over geographical numbers in that they will convey a national presence and also allow statistics to be gathered on incoming calls, making them appropriate for contact centre use. Organisations will be given the chance to transfer their existing 0870 numbers by simply swapping the "8" for a "3" when the number range becomes available later this year.

Ofcom intends to retain the other revenue-sharing telephone numbers: the cheaper 0845 range and the premium-rate 09 range.

The regulator said on Tuesday it would also stop releasing 070 personal numbers at the end of year. 070s should be used for personal numbering, but they have been adopted by several firms carrying out premium-rate scam promotions, while making consumers think they were only paying for a mobile-rate call. Personal numbering will be given a new number range, possibly beginning 06.

Following these changes, the UK's telephone numbering scheme will include:

  • 01 Geographic numbers
  • 02 Geographic numbers
  • 03 National numbers with no revenue sharing
  • 05 VoIP numbers
  • 06 Personal numbering, to be confirmed
  • 07 Mobile-rate numbers
  • 0800 Freephone numbers
  • 0845 Revenue-sharing numbers billed at close to geographic rate
  • 0870 Revenue-sharing numbers billed at a higher rate
  • 09 Premium-rate numbers