Call for council to drop 0845 numbers

County Hall, Morpeth.
County Hall, Morpeth.
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COUNCILLORS are calling on the county council to drop its use of 0845 numbers.

Labour members are urging the local authority to make the move in line with a government proposal.

The numbers are free to call from a BT landline, but mobile operators charge an average of 25p a minute.

Reports state more people are now relying solely on mobile phones in a bid to save money.

In 2010, 26 per cent of families on low incomes had become mobile-only and it is believed this figure has now increased.

In 2010, regulator Ofcom called for an end to the use of 0845 numbers for public bodies’ help lines.

Between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of call fees from these ‘non-geographic’ numbers go to the organisation being called.

Labour group leader and Blyth Kitty Brewster councillor Grant Davey said the system “has locked out people suffering most through austerity measures and who need the services of council more than others”.

He added: “Cramlington Eastfield and West, Hirst, College and the Newbiggin wards have some of the lowest disposable incomes in Britain.

“Couple that with six of the eight Blyth wards having massively high deprivation figures – Croft ward has 60 per cent of children in poverty.

“We need to ensure we don’t exacerbate those problems further and return to a geographic contact line as soon as possible.”

The government is to consult on banning the use of 0845 numbers for help lines from June next year.

A spokesperson for the council said: “The council’s main customer services number was set up before local government reorganisation, when it was considered to be best option in a large geographical area like Northumberland – where no one number would be considered ‘local’ by all residents.

“The council is looking at a range of options but 0845 numbers are used by many organisations because they give flexibility and are in line with research about the costs of dialling 0300 and 0845 numbers.

“We are currently making improvements and increasing options by installing new telephony across the council – replacing some old and outdated systems.

“The costs of using 0845 numbers by mobile vary according to packages and there are other ways that people can make contact with the council, including self-serving online and by visiting customer information centres or libraries across Northumberland.”