Oftel drops freephone number overhaul plan

Telecoms watchdog Oftel has dropped controversial plans to change the 0800 and 0500 free-phone numbers.

The decision has been welcomed by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), which claims it would have cost its members millions of pounds in lost business.

ISBA director of public affairs Ian Twinn says: “We are delighted Oftel has considered our views and reversed its initial proposals.

“It was evident all along that Oftel had underestimated the scale of the problems a change would create. Advertisers have invested heavily in the promotion of 0800 numbers and many place ‘golden numbers’ at the centre of their long-term customer service and marketing strategy.”

Oftel had planned to overhaul the freephone system because of a shortage of 0800 numbers. It now proposes to reclaim blocks of unused numbers from BT and make them available to businesses.

Oftel director-general of communications David Edmonds says: “0800 numbers are a telecoms success story. Consumers understand that calls to 0800 numbers are free. Many businesses regard their 0800 number as an essential part of their customer service provision.”

Oftel is also seeking a change in the law to allow so-called “golden” numbers – such as AXA Direct’s 0800 282820 – to be sold on the open market.

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