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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 was estimated to be worth in the region of £800 million over 2009, and 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 Formal Framework Agreement, which is available here.

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 09.00 – 17.00 Monday – Friday)
  • writing to PhonepayPlus at Freepost, WC5468, London SE1 2BR

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

We are currently reviewing the rules governing non-geographic call services delivered to consumers using telephone numbers beginning with 03, 070, 08, 09 and 118.  We want to consider whether, and if so how, regulation might need to be adapted or reduced, in the interests of consumers. We want any reform to enhance (or at least preserve) the features consumers value, and encourage new services for the benefit of consumers.

This project may have an impact on PRS numbers (09 and 118), including how they operate, how revenue is shared, and how pricing information is conveyed to consumers. Ofcom is currently developing its approach to non-geographic call services and will publish a consultation document later in 2010. More information about this project can be found here.

Broadcasting information For information about the use of PRS in broadcasting, please see the following links:

http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/broadcast/guidance/section22009.pdf
http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/broadcasting/reviews-investigations/premium-rate/
http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/participationtv3/summary

There is also a specific licence condition for TV broadcasters regarding requirements for the handling of communications from viewers; the condition includes provisions regarding the use of PRS: http://licensing.ofcom.org.uk/.

Guidance to the licensing provisions is available at: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/broadcast/guidance/guidance_verifcation_obj.pdf.

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

Information on how Communications Providers can apply for PRS Telephone Numbers from the National Numbering Scheme is available here.

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

Information on Ofcom's proposed consumer protection test for allocating telephone numbers, including PRS numbers, can be found here.

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