Call centres run by central government have been given until the end of June to submit information on their use of 084 and 087 numbers ahead of likely guidance on a public sector strategy for telephone number ranges.
The Cabinet Office’s Contact Council, set up to provide an oversight of customer contact across the public sector, has been asked to recommend a cross-governmental approach for use of telephone number ranges.
The Contact Council’s investigation follows an announcement by the Department of Health at the end of last month that it was delaying a decision on whether it should ban the use of 084 numbers in the NHS in England. As many as 1,500 GP practices in the UK are believed to use 084 numbers, which are also used by some hospitals and the helpline NHS Direct.
This week the Contact Council issued a “clarification statement” setting out the number ranges currently available and the implications of revenue-sharing telephone numbers. It said revenue-sharing numbers worked either by making a direct payment to the department receiving the call or as a discount on the overall cost of the bill from the telephone provider. It said all departments were required to know who retained the additional revenue and to achieve transparency with the public.
Central government departments now have to provide the Council with information about how any revenue-sharing arrangements work and to outline which number range “best meets their needs” by the end of June.
The statement said 03 numbers offered an alternative to 084 and 087 numbers as they are charged at the same rate as 01 and 02 numbers and revenue sharing was prohibited.
The Contact Council said that although its focus was currently on central government departments, its intention was to liaise with local authority and other public sector organisation representatives to agreed an appropriate approach for these areas.
The statement adds: “Government departments should consider the cost of accessing the service to make sure that citizens on low income can afford to make contact.”
David Hickson, a campaigner against use of 084 numbers in the NHS, said many public bodies have already adopted 03 numbers and that public recognition was steadily growing.
He added: “Local authorities and other public bodies ware fully covered by the statement and will need to make their own plans for use of 03 or suitable local numbers, now that 084 and 087 numbers are finally recognised to be unsuitable for services that are not delivered for a fee.”