A WIRRAL MP is calling for a ban on premium rate telephone numbers across all Government departments.
Blasting the charges as a “phone tax” Frank Field revealed more than 50m calls were made to the Department for Work and Pensions last year by claimants and elderly people.
The campaigning Birkenhead MP believes 0845 telephone numbers must be banned across all departments and refunds given to those who have been charged “sky-high” rates for phoning about their benefits or pension.
Mr Field said: “Phone companies are benefiting to the tune of tens of millions of pounds from this ‘Phone Tax’ on poor and elderly people for the privilege of calling the DWP about their benefits and pensions.
“This must end immediately.
“We need a complete ban on 0845 numbers across Government departments.
“We also need to know where the money generated from these calls has been going and exactly how much profit has been made on the backs of vulnerable people.”
Following pressure on the Government last autumn, Mr Field has discovered that 50.36m calls alone were received by the DWP on 0845 numbers, between November 2012 and October 2013.
The average duration of calls to the department’s working age service lines was nearly six-and-a-half minutes, with the cost of calling such numbers from a mobile as high as 41p per minute and often excluded from free minutes packages.
Mr Field added: “The fair thing to do would be to refund people who have been charged these sky-high rates for calling up to sort out their benefit claim or their pension.”
The Cabinet Office recently issued guidance acknowledging the “inappropriate” use of 0845 numbers for “core Government services” and encouraged government departments to use cheaper 03 numbers instead.
However, Mr Field believes they must go further: “While I am pleased the Government has finally begun to wake up to this unacceptable practice, it has yet to realise that this is a mega problem that is taking huge sums of money from poor and elderly people right across the country, to boost the profits of the major telephone companies.”
Mr Field has written to the private companies operating the lines to ask how much money they have made from such calls.