It’s pretty shocking, but anyone who has called a government helpline won’t be particularly surprised. Brits spent some £56m calling higher-rate government helplines between 2012 and 2013, a National Audit Office (NAO) report has shown, for a total of 880 million minutes.
Callers have spent £26m simply on hold while waiting to speak to an advisor when calling higher-rate numbers. Some 63% of calls to the government’s 365 total helplines were to its higher-rate 084 numbers.
In another gutting twist to everyone who has been kept on hold for 20 minutes while dialling one of the government’s 084 helplines (yes, I am still bitter), the money generated from the helplines is split between the government and telcom companies. The premium-rate 084 numbers are typically double the amount of a normal phone number.
The NAO estimates that if all government phone numbers were instead 03 numbers, callers would be spared £29m in costs, and it would only cost the government £7m.
“Callers do not receive a better service from higher-rate numbers and many callers are put off calling government phone numbers altogether. The most vulnerable callers, such as low income households, face some of the highest charges,” said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO.
The NAO’s report noted that “in a recent survey, Citizens Advice found that 61% of its clients had been deterred from calling government telephone numbers over concerns about the cost of calling from a mobile”.
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