The regulation of premium rate telephone numbers

What is a premium rate telephone number?

A premium rate telephone number is a telephone number which begins with 070, 084, 087, 09 and 118 (and five-digit mobile short codes). Premium rate telephone numbers are mainly used for premium rate services including competitions, TV voting, horoscopes, chat lines, adult lines, recorded information, professional advice services (for example, computer support help lines) and directory enquiries.

Premium rate services refers to the provision of premium rate telephone services, as well as other services that are charged to phone bills or pre-paid phone accounts, for example, interactive ‘red button’ television services.

The cost of premium rate telephone numbers varies widely from approximately £0.75 to around £3 per minute (they are most expensive from mobile phones). Such calls might be shown on phone bills as a premium rate call or a high premium rate service.

Who regulates premium rate telephone numbers?

The Communications Act 2003 gave Ofcom the responsibility for regulating premium rate services. The Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA) (formerly, PhonePay Plus) is responsible for the day-to-day regulation of the premium rate services market on Ofcom’s behalf. All providers of premium rate services are required to register with PAS before providing services. Registration must be renewed annually.

How are premium rate telephone numbers regulated?

The PSA is the UK’s regulator for premium rate services which come within Ofcom’s definition of Controlled Premium Rate Services (“CPRS”). A CPRS is, essentially, a premium rate service falling within one or more of the following categories:

  • the service is obtained through a Special Services Number (except an 0843/4 number) and charged at least 5p per minute for BT customers
  • the call is through a PRS Number and the Service Charge for the call is at least 5.833 pence per minute or 5.833 pence per call (plus VAT)
  • the service is obtained other than through a Special Services Number, or a PRS Number, and the charge is at least 10p per minute
  • the service is a Chatline Service, it is Internet Dialler Software operated, or it is a Sexual Entertainment Service

The PSA Code of Practice (14th Edition) sets out the rules with which all providers of premium rate services should comply (please note that adherence to the Code is voluntary if the service does not come under the CPRS umbrella, above).

What obligations does the Code of Practice impose on service providers?

The Code of Practice imposes several obligations on providers of regulated premium rate services including in relation to:

  • Transparent and accurate pricing information
  • Treating consumers fairly and not to mislead them
  • Not to invade consumers’ privacy in an unreasonable way
  • Not to cause harm or unreasonable offence to consumers or the general public

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For more information on:

  • Are service providers legally bound by the Code of Practice?
  • What powers does the PSA have?
  • What sanctions are available to the PSA?