Ofcom proposal to make residents dial 13 numbers for a local call

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PLANS announced by Ofcom will require residents to dial 13 numbers to make a local call in the 01273 code area, which includes Newhaven and Lewes.

The proposals have been criticised by Lewes MP Norman Baker, who has called them “confusing and unnecessary”.

But responding to the MP’s views, Ofcom said people would only have to dial 11 digits, as opposed to 13 and added it was already proposing a pilot scheme to charge providers for phone numbers where these numbers were scarce.

It said the plans will avoid the need to change existing phone numbers and will mean consumers and businesses continue to enjoy the widest choice of providers.

A spokesperson for Ofcome added: “Ofcom will work with communications providers to inform local communities well in advance of the need to use the code.”

Half of all calls made in the country are local and any changes will affect both customers and businesses in the 01273 code area.

Ofcom plans to remove the ability to make calls locally without dialling the 01273 area code as a means of making more numbers available.

There are 57,000 phone numbers currently not in use and it suggests these could run out by 2015.

But in a meeting with Ofcom, Mr Baker learned there were 90 phone companies which were allocated numbers in Brighton and the surrounding area.

It is clear most do not use all their numbers and Mr Baker blamed this for the shortage.

He cited the fact he was allocated more numbers than he needed in his constituency office in Lewes and would be happy to have them freed up.

Many phone numbers lie dormant in this way, and he argued if companies had to pay a small fee or bid for phone numbers they would use them more efficiently.

Mr Baker said: “Of course telephone numbers are a finite resource but they should be used efficiently and that is not happening at the moment. This is what Ofcom should be sorting out, not making us dial a 13 digit number to order a pizza from down the road. I have asked Ofcom to think again and have put alternatives to them. I will also be contacting the Minister for Communications, Ed Vaizey.”

Ofcom said it allocates 01 and 02 telephone numbers to around 300 communications providers free of charge in large blocks.

These companies then use the numbers to provide services to homes, businesses and other organisations.

The number of communications providers has increased significantly over the last six years, leading to more competition and cheaper landline bills for millions of homes and businesses.

But it has also led to increased pressure on the supply of phone numbers as well as some communications providers holding a significant quantity of unused numbers, Ofcom explained.

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “Ofcom also proposes to launch a pilot scheme to charge communication providers 10p per phone number per year in around 30 areas (out of a total of 610 areas) where numbers are most scarce.”

Ofcom is also proposing to launch a pilot scheme to charge communications providers for local numbers in some areas to encourage their efficient use.

From next year, people in a few areas where phone numbers are becoming very scarce will need to dial the whole number when making local calls.

This measure will enable Ofcom to make more numbers available in those areas. Ofcom’s consumer research shows this to be the least disruptive option for homes and businesses.

Currently Ofcom expects that these measures may be needed first in Bournemouth by mid 2012.

So, for example, it would mean that a person living in Bournemouth who wanted to call another Bournemouth number would have to dial the whole phone number, including the 01202 code.

Based on current forecasts, Ofcom expects that similar changes may also be required in the Brighton and Hove area (01273).

It also proposes to launch a pilot scheme to charge communication providers 10p per phone number per year in around 30 areas (out of a total of 610 areas) where numbers are most scarce.

Ofcom expects to announce the final pilot area codes when it publishes its decision early next year.

The charge would be applied to numbers that have already been allocated to communication providers as well as to future allocations.

The aim of this is to encourage communications providers to consider their plans carefully before applying for new bulk allocations of phone numbers and incentivise the return of unused numbers to Ofcom.

The majority of European countries, including France, Spain and Belgium, already charge communications providers for phone numbers.

Ofcom proposes to launch the pilot in autumn 2012 and review it around two years after implementation.

It will also improve the application process for phone numbers and is working to reclaim numbers not being used by communications providers.

Ofcom’s recent audit of phone number use led to over 69 million unused landline numbers being handed back to Ofcom by communications providers.

This measure will only apply to 01XXX numbers. At the moment, when making a local call it is not necessary to use the area code anywhere in the UK.