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back to article Hold on a mo: Brits blow £56m a year on the blower to gov minions

British callers spent £56m last year on calling costly 084-prefixed numbers for government departments, the National Audit Office has said. The public spending watchdog released a report today that showed that Blighty's government departments were still using higher rate phone numbers, particularly in the Department of Work and …

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just 1.1p a minute for local or 03 calls outside of free minutes.

Really? On what tariff?

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most helplines have an international number, I call that, BUT there are the odd company that blocks calls from the UK to that number, which usually results in my business moving elsewhere shortly after

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Unhappy

HMRC

HMRC are guilty of this if you want to phone up about your tax - they block calling their international number from a landline. However it seems to work from a mobile.

Unfortunately it's not really possible to move your business elsewhere in that case (unless you're a large multinational of course...)

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Re: HMRC

Personally I NEVER talk to government or financial institutions, I always use email/fax/letter, so I have proof when I need to challenge them, got burnt once, not again, they lie and will not release any recordings (for training purposes!!!)

If you must phone HMRC as the only way of contacting them, put the cost + vat on your tax return and claim it back, you never know it might get accepted.

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Re: Aimee Re: HMRC

I found a simpler answer. I simply tell them at the start of the conversation: "Legally, I am obliged to inform you I am recording this conversation, so please state your full name clearly." They have to give their name by law, giving a false one is a fireable offence for UK civil servants. You'd be amazed how polite and helpful they are, especially considering I'm not recording anything!

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Re: Aimee HMRC

They have to give their name by law, giving a false one is a fireable offence for UK civil servants.

Cute, but how are you going to verify that?

What I find interesting is that you are always recorded without an opt-out option. AFAIK, if you state at the beginning that you object to the recoding it loses its legal validity and cannot be used in court as it was done without your permission. I have come across a few organisations that offer you an opt-out, but it's rare.

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Meh

Looks like Tory policy to me.

TAX THE POOR!

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Except government departments have been using these numbers for years so actually it was Labour policy.

Not that I'm a Tory supporter but it annoys me when they get blamed for policies that were actually brought in by Blair, Brown and their cronies.

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Re:dogged

"Looks like Tory policy to me....." Some see only what they want to see, and in this case, seeing as the practice seems to have been just as prevalent in NuLabour's reign, you don't seem to be able to see past your political blinkers.

".....TAX THE POOR!" Really? Is it such an burden? £56m spread across a population of 50-odd million makes it an annual "tax" of roughly £1 per head. Hardly going to start the next Poll Tax riots. Even if we're generous and say only one-in-four people had reason to use these numbers it still comes out at only £4 per annum, or les than a packet of fags "the poor" seem so fond of, and probably far less than they spend on sending mobile selfie pics to each other. Someone is intent on making a mountain out of a molehill.

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@Irongut

Not that I'm a Tory supporter but it annoys me when they get blamed for policies that were actually brought in by Blair, Brown and their cronies.

Oh, quite. I don't support any of them (and won't until they stop tacitly funding organized crime via prohibition) but my point was, this report is likely to meet with a "good, let 'em pay" from George Osborne and his goldplated cronies.

As for Matt Bryant - a), you're still a cretin and b) one pound per head would indicate that everyone except the very very rich are on benefits/pensions. While doubtless this would suit Iain Duncan Smith's propaganda machine, it's probably not the case, is it?

Is maths too hard for you?

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Re: dogged Re: @Irongut

"....I don't support any of them (and won't until they stop tacitly funding organized crime via prohibition)...." I assume by that you mean won't let you legally buy the drugs you have so obviously been heartily partaking of?

".....one pound per head would indicate that everyone except the very very rich are on benefits/pensions....." The article mentions the numbers are spread across a wide range of UK gov departments, not just DWP. We're not all dole-claiming junkies, you know. some of us do have other reasons to call such departments as the MoD, HMRC, Defra, etc.

".......Is maths too hard for you?" Obviously reading comprehension is simply too hard for you.

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Anonymous Coward

Labour really screwed up this country. Their failures massively outweigh their successes.

While I'm not a fan of Tories or Labour, I sure remember this country being a nicer place prior to Blair arriving at number 10 in 1997.

Lets not forget that Blair wanted websites for government, so he went to Bill Gates and as a result all the sites were IE specific.

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Re: dogged @Irongut

LIes, damned lies, and statistics strikes again!

Averaging it all out and it seems like not a lot, as you say. But for one unemployed person a half an hour on hold at 17p per minute is an awful lot out of their weekly income - that fiver could well be their entire food budget for the next 2-3 of days. Have to do that a couple of times & it really is out of the reach of some people to make these calls.

Yes Matt we understand that in your view anyone who is unlucky enough to be dumped out of their job & not find another one right away (because there are so many more decent jobs than unemployed people around at the mo aren't there) deserves nothing at all to help them with food, shelter, heating etc.. But actually profitting from them?

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Re: Corinne Re: dogged @Irongut

".....Averaging it all out and it seems like not a lot, as you say....." Which is why you have to try to obfuscate the figures as their minimal nature really does blow a gaping hole in your argument, right? It seems that the unemployed seem to be quite capable of stretching their budgets to fags, booze and mobile phones, so a few quid on a phone call that might actually help them doesn't seem such a terrible, awful, life-threatening expenditure. OMG, they might have to skip a pint or two that week, what a horrific fate! Not.

"....Yes Matt we understand that in your view anyone who is unlucky enough to be dumped out of their job & not find another one right away....." OK, step back from the melodrama, dear. I'm sure being unemployed is not exactly the life of Reilly for those that actually want to get back to work, that feel bad about being unemployed (though, TBH, there seem to be a large number quite content with their lot). But please stop pretending it is some life of unmitigated horror. Compared to being unemployed in the vast majority of the World, being unemployed in the UK is at least survivable if not reasonably comfortable. It's not like we have to get out the bulldozers every morning to clear the bodies of the unfortunate unemployed from the streets just so the workers can get to work. We have an office in India where they have had to remove the bodies of unemployed untouchables that have died sleeping rough in the company car park.

Please feel free to satisfy your sense of moral superiority and self-righteousness by telling me I'm heartless, etc., etc., if it helps you get through the day.

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Anonymous Coward

AC because I work for the DWP.

I might add that some point the government negotiated with mobile providers to not charge mobile users for calling 0800 numbers for DWP services (primarily those for new benefit claims and the now abolished Crisis Loans) - unfortunately the years begin to blur into one after a while in the Civil Service but I'm pretty certain it wasn't done under the Labour government. I could easily be wrong though.

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Re: Corinne dogged @Irongut

There clearly speaks someone who's not had to survive on benefits in recent years - have you ever done the maths on what it costs to actually live in this modern age? And do you know what basic benefits are for someone who is single with no dependants?

Benefits are currently a little over £70 per week. Out of that has to come lighting, heating (was a bad winter last year if you didn't notice), water, house & contents insurance. Those between them in a small house take up over half the benefits without even thinking, maybe more depending on things like house insulation. If you run a car depends on health & location whether that classes as a luxury) there are tax, insurance & fuel; without a car you need to factor in public transport fares. A telephone, whether a mobile or land line, is a must. Internet access is also absolutely critical these days for job hunting; and going to a public library for all that costs fares, plus you can't just cancel the contract with your ISP & stop paying at a days' notice. By now the unemployed person is below £20 a week often less, and out of that has to come all food, cleaning products, household "luxuries" like loo roll, deodorant, toothpaste, non-prescription medication. Woe betide the unemployed single person if they need new shoes or clothing for any reason, or if their washing machine breaks down, or they need a plumber!

Yes basic rent or the mortgage interest are paid, but mortgage interest relief only kicks in after 3 months so that has to be found for a while. And nowadays a portion of council tax still has to be found "as an incentive to find work", so that's another couple of quid every week.

So no, unemployed single people in the UK aren't so badly off as those in 2nd & 3rd world countries who actually die, but stop making it sound like it's a life of leisure & pleasure. It may not be unmitigated horror but it's not really any more than surviving. Suggesting an extra fiver a week is minimal & insignificant just means not that your heartless, but that you believe the FUD in the papers & have never actually researched the subject properly or been in that situation.

Oh and would you have called a MALE commenter "dear"?

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Re: @Matt Bryant

The very fact that you wrote "dole-claiming junkies" says a lot about you. Daily Mail reader by any chance?

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Re: @Matt Bryant

The bit that gave it away for me was his constant comments about all the money being spent on "booze and fags" - and always that terminology being used never "alcohol" or even "beer", and never "cigarettes" or "smoking".

I didn't realise that smoking cigarettes & drinking alcohol seem to be a direct result of being out of work, and that every single person out of work partakes of them.

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Re: wikkity Re: @Matt Bryant

".....Daily Mail reader by any chance?" No, actually, but your automatic assumption tells us plenty about your limited point of view.

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Re: Corinne Re: @Matt Bryant

"The bit that gave it away for me was his constant comments about all the money being spent on "booze and fags"....." Please do pretend neither is prevalent amongst the habitually unemployed, just for lulz. I know someone that spent three years running a Sky install service as a contractor and he was amazed at the number of homes he installed Sky kit into where it was obvious there were no employed persons. Or do you want to contend that access to "Geordie Shore" is now a right too?

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Re: Corinne @Matt Bryant

For anyone not well versed in his ramblings, as seems to be the case here, Matt is the sort of person that could have an argument in a vacuum.

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Re: AC Re: Corinne @Matt Bryant

"For anyone not well versed in his ramblings, as seems to be the case here, Matt is the sort of person that could have an argument in a vacuum." Well, I'm all sure we're quite familiar with the limits of ACs that cannot post any arguments or facts to refute what others post. Too much for you to formulate an explanation of the opinion you have no doubt adopted from someone else? That sound is me yawning.

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One Thing i have to say about the yanks

I have not paid a local or national long distance call in over a decade I am still confused as to how the uk market has allowed thep hone companies to get away with charging for local and national calls at all. I DO remember very expensive phone bills for my internet use back in the day, before sort-of-wider-than-small band of course.

I was very confused on my first trips to the US how they can spend all day and all night online and still afford to live, this was over a decade ago too.

seems they are onto a winner over there though, the gift that keeps on giving!

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Re: One Thing i have to say about the yanks

But you have to pay when someone calls you on your mobile (even if it's a telemarketer).

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Headmaster

Re: But you have to pay when someone calls you

That's more a consequence of how their mobile phone numbers have been set up. Most mobile numbers in the US have regular area codes. I.e. they look like fixed line numbers.

It is (or it used to be) possible to get a mobile phone in the UK with a local area code instead of a mobile prefix. If you had one of those you also paid for the mobile part of incoming calls.

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Re: But you have to pay when someone calls you

"Most mobile numbers in the US have regular area codes. I.e. they look like fixed line numbers."

There is no such thing as a "mobile" area code in the US. There are the various "special" codes, e.g. 800/888 (callee pays a.k.a. "toll free") and 900 (caller pays extra fee a.k.a. "what are you wearing"), that have impacts upon billing, but other that that, all cell phones are just ordinary numbers here. Moreover, due to number portability laws, what was a land-line yesterday could be a mobile tomorrow - you can move your phone number from any carrier to any other, including from/to land line to/from mobile.

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Callers

"...protecting vulnerable callers"

They don't need protecting, they just need you to get your hand out of their pockets.

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Big Brother

"put off calling government phone numbers altogether"

Does anyone ever wonder if that may be the point?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "put off calling government phone numbers altogether"

Does anyone ever wonder if that may be the point?

No, I don't wonder about that. IMHO that's a dead cert..

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Same story Downunder

Here we have 1300 numbers which were originally billed as "the cost of a local call" but now are twice the rate or higher. With these numbers both the caller and callee gets to pay depending on length of call or where the call originated. My local council can't seem to explain how much their number is costing when a normal local number would save everyone (except the phone company) some money.

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Hospital and prison telephones

In both cases there is a clear need for families to keep in touch. The 'phone services seem to have been farmed out to maximise profit without any consideration whatsoever for social needs and benefits.

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Re: David Pollard Re: Hospital and prison telephones

"In both cases there is a clear need for families to keep in touch....." Agreed, but why should either be paid for by the taxpayer? If you are unlucky enough to stay in a hospital you might notice their budgets are a bit stretched, so taking some away from patient care to cover phone bills is simply a bad idea. And as regards prisons, if you are there due to your own actions, then tough.

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Re: David Pollard Hospital and prison telephones

Nobody's suggesting that hospital phones should be free, you silly little boy.

Merely that they should NOT be charged at loan-shark rates.

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Re: dogged Re: David Pollard Hospital and prison telephones

".....Merely that they should NOT be charged at loan-shark rates." Maybe it's that your financial situation leaves you unfamiliar with banking rates, but those mentioned in the article do not seem excessive enough to be worthy of the label "loan-shark rates" to anyone but those suffering the most tragic of personal circumstances. I apologies for any offence caused if you find yourself in such a penniless category, but maybe you could save some money but not paying for an ISP service to post male bovine manure on techie forums?

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Re: dogged David Pollard Hospital and prison telephones

Matt until recently most patient phones in hospitals cost 26p a minute. If you want to call that patient on the phone in their room, it will cost you 49p per minute. At the same time some hospitals are banning the patients from using mobile phones.

This by the way is the3 same company who supplies basic TV services - at a cost of around £3.00 per day to the patient.

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Re: Corinne Re: dogged David Pollard Hospital and prison telephones

"Matt until recently most patient phones in hospitals cost 26p a minute....." So are you saying that actually you can't still say that this is true for most patient phones in hospitals?

".....If you want to call that patient on the phone in their room, it will cost you 49p per minute....." Gosh how awful! If Grannie was dying in hospital I'd just flatly refuse to call her one last time for that charge! Not. Again, unless you are literally spending weeks at a time in the hospital, you're not going to be spending that much. and you'll probably save on all the fags and booze you can't have whilst in hospital! Who knows, you may actually make a saving overall. Try again, dear.

".....At the same time some hospitals are banning the patients from using mobile phones....." That was always the case long before these charges arose. Whilst they pretend it's because the phone might interfere with equipment, the reality is to ensure there is always bandwidth available on the local cell for hospital pagers and mobiles.

".....This by the way is the3 same company who supplies basic TV services - at a cost of around £3.00 per day to the patient." Truly an awful exploitation of the masses! Not. Again. Go ask your facilities manager (or possibly the IT manager if you're doing VoIP) just how much it costs to run a company phone system - that cost applies to hospitals as well, they don't get their phone systems for free. Offloading the cost of calls to customers or even outsourcing the whole phone system (and a private TV provider) is just a smart way to keep the hospital budget being spent on actual care.

Why don't you spend equal time bleating about the cost to patients of outsourcing hospital meals or hospitals employing external cleaning companies? Oh, sorry, those were the sheeple bleats from several years ago and you need a new outrage to get all shrieky about, right?

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Boffin

@Matt Bryant - Re: dogged David Pollard Hospital and prison telephones

Maybe it's your inability to do any research that leaves you unfamiliar with the cost of phoning people in hospital, but it costs 49p a minute to call someone on their bedside phone between 8am and 6pm and 39p per minute at other times.

Calling out requires that first you buy a Hospedia Card (non-refundable, of course, unless you can pay with a credit or debit card) for a minimum of £3.50 and then pay 20p connection charge per call and 10p per minute thereafter.

Now if you actually compared that to the cost of most phone calls people make these days, I think you would consider that the words "somewhat excessive" would not be inaccurate.

Oh and, PS, you might be interested (well, if it fitted in with your parocial attitudes, that is) that Hospedia took over from Patientline after getting £30m of debt written off, sacking support staff (so if you have a problem you have to phone a premium rate support line!) and getting NHS Trusts to pay for updating system even though existing contracts have years to run.

But, hell, let's just bleed the sheeple white, it's what we've always done...

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Re: Corinne dogged David Pollard Hospital and prison telephones

@Matt, the hospitals already have the infrastructure - they need it to run the hospital. The charges for incoming as well as outgoing calls are ridiculous and amount to sound abuse of a captive audience.

You also seem to have an almost Asperger's inability to see the emotional side of this - very few people I know *choose* to be in hospital, to then get quadruple charges for the one thing that keeps them in touch with their normal living environment is almost as sick as the excessive parking charges they levy right in front of A&E.

It's not all economics, you know.

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Re:Graham Marsden Re: @Matt Bryant - dogged David Pollard Hospital....

"Maybe it's your inability to do any research...." No, I think it is really just your delight in getting all righteously shoutie.

"....costs 49p a minute to call someone.....buy a Hospedia Card (non-refundable, of course, unless you can pay with a credit or debit card) for a minimum of £3.50 and then pay 20p connection charge per call and 10p per minute thereafter....." Gosh, that's awful! You'd have to sell a kidney, right? Take a chill pill and then go look at all the luxuries like booze and fags you happily spend much more on without hesitation, then get a sense of priorities and a clue. You are still desperately trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.

"....hell, let's just bleed the sheeple white...." I hope not, McDonalds still need burger-flippers.

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Re: AC Re: Corinne dogged David Pollard Hospital and prison telephones

"@Matt, the hospitals already have the infrastructure...." So, is your home phone the same one you had in the Seventies? How about your workplace, did they renew their PABX within the last decade? How about new tech like VoIP, heard of it? Hospitals are just like other organisations, they have had to update their telecoms systems and many have simply saved money by outsourcing the public side to private companies.

".....You also seem to have an almost Asperger's inability to see the emotional side of this....." Nope, I just have the ability to think with all of my brain and not just lurch about in emotive reflexes.

"..... very few people I know *choose* to be in hospital....." So, how many people do you know who ARE in hospital, and did they stay long? You act like the majority of the population are stuck there for six months out of every twelve.

".....to then get quadruple charges for the one thing that keeps them in touch with their normal living environment...." For the short time the average person spends there you mean?

".... is almost as sick as the excessive parking charges they levy right in front of A&E.". Most hospitals don't have parking in front of the A&E because they need to get the ambulances in. And again, offloading an external service like car parking helps save on hospital budgets.

".....It's not all economics, you know." Actually it is, and very simple economics - you want all those services for free you either have to pay more tax or accept cuts in actual healthcare. DUH!

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Boffin

Re: Re:Graham Marsden @Matt Bryant - dogged David Pollard Hospital....

Really, Matt, you ought to write for the Daily Mail.

"All the problems of this country are due to those workshy unemployed layabouts who sponge off the state and spend all their benefits on fags and booze and yadda, yadda, yadda..."

It must be so nice to live in your smug and self-satisfied world where you have enough money to live on and don't have to watch every penny (unlike the friends I have who *are* unemployed and *don't* buy fags and booze because they can't afford it).

And if the unemployed and less well off have to pay more than the rest of us because they can't afford the deals and get the Direct Debit discounts or free minutes or whatever, well, that isn't a problem for you, is it? After all, "I'm alright, Jack!"

Hey, everyone! Matt Bryant says it's not a problem, so we can stop worrying about anyone else but ourselves!

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Re: Re:Graham Marsden @Matt Bryant - dogged David Pollard Hospital....

"Really, Matt, you ought to write for the Daily Mail.....All the problems of this country are due to those workshy unemployed layabouts......" Whatever. On the other hand, it is very obvious that you need to work on your basic reading and comprehension before making any attempt at factual reporting, seeing as I never made any such statement. It seems the driver behind your rants is nothing based on fact or logic, more just socio-political whining.

".....It must be so nice to live in your smug and self-satisfied world...." Where I pay my own way. Yes, it's always been that way, born with a silver spoon and all that, right? It seems you are the one suffering from a massive dose of preconceptions. Don't worry, Comrade, it will all be better after The Revolution, right? ROFLMAO!

".....Hey, everyone! Matt Bryant says it's not a problem....." I said it was not the massive, life-threatening issue you (and the article dribbler) were making it out to be. You really need to go look at how much people spend on phone usage before accepting £56m as "horrific". Try here for a start http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research/market-data/communications-market-reports/cmr12/uk/UK5.80, a chart showing how monthly SMS usage is increasing WAAAAAAAAAY beyond the piddling £56m annual figure you are so determined to bleat and shriek about. Please do pretend none of your "destitute" friends sends any text messages, just for comedy value. Before you do, you may wish to note that OFCOM states "The average UK consumer now sends 50 texts per week", and that the coms spend was about £53.3bn for 2012. In reality, the £56m figure is peanuts to everyone but the Lefties desperately looking for something to make a fuss about.

Enjoy!

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Re: Re:Graham Marsden @Matt Bryant - dogged David Pollard Hospital....

Ah, I see the Matt Bryant movable Goal Posts are back out again...

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Re: Graham Marsden Re: Re:Graham Marsden @Matt Bryant - dogged David Pollard Hospital....

"Ah, I see the Matt Bryant movable Goal Posts are back out again..." Ah, I see that all you can do is whine again when a little context shows the stupidity of your bleating. No attempt to counter or debunk the fact the £56m really is just not that much in reality. This is my surprised face, honest.

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Why aren't they all free?

Look at the advantages for DWP.

By conducting their business over the phone, they save money. They throttle their workload because people can't be bothered to hang on. They avoid an embarrassing backlog of unanswered letters and emails, because phone calls leave no trace. They avoid personal accountability, because you never speak to the same person twice. They avoid having to solve problems and correct cock-ups - replying to a letter or email would require some effort at resolution.

And, in return, they expect callers to pay premium rates. Do they really imagine people call DWP for pleasure?

I suggest we all start to send them long, hand-written letters, with a follow-up every 14 days "I draw your attention to my letter of the 17th ult., to which I am surprised to have received no acknowledgement...". When the last DWP citadel disappears beneath a heap of Basildon Bond, we'll know we've won.

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Re: Why aren't they all free?

".....I suggest we all start to send them long, hand-written letters, with a follow-up every 14 days "I draw your attention to my letter of the 17th ult., to which I am surprised to have received no acknowledgement...". When the last DWP citadel disappears beneath a heap of Basildon Bond, we'll know we've won." So your answer to the problem of a pretty vital government service running at a cost is to try and break it at a far greater cost to the taxpayer in general and the users of the service in particular? Wouldn't it be a better idea to send the letters to MPs so as to put the pressure on them rather than the system you claim to have an interest in improving? You are living proof not all the anarchists have died of their own stupidity just yet.

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Re: Why aren't they all free?

"Pretty vital Government service"

Pahahahahahaha....

Really? You really believe that? Bless you.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why aren't they all free?

The reason they aren't all free is because a considerable amount of government agencies are trading funds and receive very little funding directly from taxes. At one stage less than 25% of DVLA's budget came from central government, the other 75% it had to raise itself which it does via fees.

Providing free services costs money and that money has to come from somewhere, there's no additional money coming from central government, in fact that money is shrinking (DVLA has to post everything by second class business post and is closing its local offices because of this), trading funds need permission from central government to raise fees which is unlikely to be approved for a free service so to provide a free service the money has to come from somewhere else in the budget meaning something has to be cut.

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Re: Why aren't they all free?

So your answer to the problem of a pretty vital government service running at a cost is to try and break it at a far greater cost to the taxpayer in general and the users of the service in particular?

Hahahaha, oh boy. For an "essential" government they have adopted an internal pace that makes a glacier appear fast, together with an IT services contract that must have killed the supplier rep by laughing himself to death.

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