Premium rate services (PRS)

Premium rate services (PRS)

Premium rate services are a form of micro-payment for paid for content, data services and value added services that are subsequently charged to your telephone bill. They tend to cost more than a normal phone call or text message. They usually operate on numbers beginning 09, 118, 0871/2/3 or five or six digit mobile text shortcodes.

The premium rate industry in the UK incorporates a diverse number of services, such as:

  • Directory Inquiries;
  • 087 business information lines;
  • Mobile games;
  • Competitions and quizzes;
  • Charity donations;
  • Adult entertainment; and
  • Chat services.

Ofcom has overall responsibility for regulating premium rate services. PhonepayPlus is appointed by Ofcom to carry out the day-to-day operations. Further information about PhonepayPlus can be found at www.phonepayplus.org.uk.

The role of Ofcom

There is a separate set of regulations in place for PRS, the key elements of which are:

Ofcom has responsibility and accountability for the regulation of premium rate services under the terms of the Communications Act 2003. Ofcom has designated PhonepayPlus to deliver the day-to-day regulation of the market, by approving the PhonepayPlus Code of Practice. Regulatory strategy, scope and policy are developed in dialogue with PhonepayPlus, but final decisions will rest with Ofcom.

The relationship between Ofcom and PhonepayPlus is set out in a Memorandum of Understanding.

The role of PhonepayPlus

PhonepayPlus regulates the content, promotion and overall operation of all PRS through its Code of Practice. Its role is to develop a Code of Practice for providers of PRS with the aim of producing a regulatory framework that protects consumers. For example, the Code requires clear and accurate pricing information, honest advertising, and appropriate and targeted promotions.

It investigates all complaints received about the PRS numbers it regulates. If PhonepayPlus thinks a provider may have breached the Code of Practice, it will investigate. This investigation can result in a case being adjudicated by the PhonepayPlus Tribunal. The Tribunal is made up of members of the independent Code Compliance Panel (CCP). The Tribunal has the power to impose sanctions on companies running the services. These sanctions range from:

  • issuing formal reprimands;
  • ordering the service provider to pay reasonable and valid claims for compensation;
  • imposing fines of up to £250,000 for each breach of the Code;
  • barring access to services;  
  • banning named individuals from operating any premium rate service for set periods.

Where there is evidence of very serious consumer harm, including fraudulent activity, PhonepayPlus has the power to invoke an Emergency Procedure and to tell a network to stop a number from operating altogether while it investigates.

If you want to check a premium rate number on your bill, you can use the number checker on the PhonepayPlus website. As well as identifying the premium rate service, the facility will let you know whether it is under investigation for any reason and of any action PhonepayPlus is taking.

You can make a formal complaint about a PRS provider by:

  • completing the online form on its website – www.phonepayplus.org.uk
  • calling its freephone helpline - 0800 500 212 (open 09.30 – 17.00 Monday – Friday)
  • writing to PhonepayPlus at FREEPOST, PhonepayPlus, Clove Building, 4 Maguire Street, London SE1 2NQ

It helps an investigation if the promotional material for the service, together with any other relevant details, is provided. If the complaint involves text messages, please do not delete them, as they can be important evidence in an investigation. If you want to stop receiving text messages from a PRS shortcode, reply STOP ALL to the text.

Other relevant information

Review of scope of regulation for premium rate services

In 2009 Ofcom carried out a review of the way in which PRS are regulated in light of market developments, in particular the rapid growth in number and range of PRS. This led to the publication of the PRS Scope Review statement, which set out, amongst other things:

  • An analytical framework that can be used to analyse a particular phonepaid service to assess whether it should be subject to PRS regulation; and
  • A number of initiatives aimed at improving the current regulatory framework.  Although we found that the current regulatory regime is working well overall, we recommended a number of refinements to further improve protection for consumers.

Non-geographic services review

In December 2013, Ofcom published a statement on “Simplifying non-geographic numbers”, in which we set out our decisions on changes to the regulation of non-geographic call services – specifically the 080, 084, 087, 09, 116 and 118 number ranges. These changes included several decisions that affect the regulation of PR and, in particular, the following decisions:

  • to separate out the Communications Providers’ Access Charge (which is the charge paid to the phone company originating the call) from the Service Charge (which is the charge paid to the phone company which terminates the call and may be shared with the PRS provider);
  • to set a maximum per minute Service Charge for calls to 09 numbers of £3 per minute plus VAT which represents an increase in the current price point; and
  • to set a maximum per call Service Charge for calls to 09 numbers of £5 per call plus VAT, which also represents an increase in the current price point.

These changes were implemented on 1 July 2015.

Further details setting out Ofcom’s decisions can be found here: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/simplifying-non-geo-no/final-statement

These changes are being communicated through a campaign called UK Calling. Further details can be found here: http://www.ukcalling.info/.

PRS Bad Debt Surcharge

We consulted in July 2009 about the proposed form & level of a price cap on BT for its PRS Bad Debt Surcharge. This is a wholesale charge that BT levies on terminating communication providers (TCPs). The charge relates to the retail bad debt on PRS calls which BT retails in excess of the level of bad debt recovered in the NTS Retail Uplift. The NTS Retail Uplift is the wholesale charge applicable to all NTS calls that recovers costs which BT incurs when retailing NTS calls on behalf of TCPs.

Further details about the nature of these proposed controls can be found in the July 2009 consultation.

Since the July 2009 consultation we have commissioned BDO, a leading firm of accountants, to review BT's bad debt information and BDO will shortly be reviewing BT's 2009/10 bad debt information. We plan to use this 2009/10 information as one of the inputs into a revised set of proposals for a price cap on the PRS Bad Debt Surcharge.

Numbering policy

Number Availability: Supplying numbers for 09 premium rate services

Ofcom has made it possible for telecoms operators to apply for newly available numbers within the 09 premium rate services range. Further information can be found here.

Consumer protection test for telephone numbering