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Time to disconnect premium rate phone lines

Andy Brian, Partner and retail expert at law firm Gordons.

Andy Brian

Andy Brian

Premium rate telephone calls are a hot topic again after consumer groups and charities urged David Cameron to abolish 120 government phone lines. This followed Downing Street’s ban on a premium helpline set up for flood victims by the Environment Agency.

The clock is ticking towards the introduction of regulations that come into force on June 13, which will affect how retailers operate premium rate lines.

Under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, where retailers offer helplines for people to contact them about something they have bought, there should be a number available that charges no more than the basic rate.

The Department for Business Innovation & Skills’ guidance asserts that not all numbers operated by retailers must be basic rate.

It is only when consumers need to contact them about goods they have already bought that a basic rate number must be available.

These changes will not, therefore, prevent retailers from operating premium rate lines for orders - as no contract has been formed at this point - or for other customer service purposes.

The regulations state that basic rate lines must be communicated as prominently as premium rate lines in places such as websites, catalogues, or in correspondence.

Retailers should also highlight the basic rate option, for discussing orders already placed, in automated messages on premium lines, which must also explain the latter’s higher charges.

The move further strengthens consumer protection, with the Government claiming it wants people to be confident about shopping with a range of traders.

Other changes include consumers being given an extra seven days to change their minds and cancel orders under distance selling rules, extending the period to 14 days. It is most definitely a period of change for the retail sector with regards to consumer protection, so retailers must act fast in order not to be caught out.

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