BBC Northern Ireland announces cheaper call-in number after Belfast Telegraph expose
BBC Northern Ireland has bowed to pressure and introduced a new number for its phone-in shows following concerns about rip-off call charges.
From today the broadcaster will switch from an 0845 to an 03 prefix.
It means most calls will be free. Those that are charged will cost no more than the price of a local call.
The BBC had been under pressure to switch its number after the Belfast Telegraph reported how calls to programmes like The Nolan Show and Talkback could be costing up to 46p a minute - far higher than listeners were being told.
That is because of access charges, which can be up to 22 times higher than the 2p service charge listeners were told about.
Today's switch to an 03 number will mean most callers avoid any charges. Other BBC regions had migrated to the 03 prefix some time ago.
After enquiries from this newspaper, the BBC confirmed the new number would take effect from today.
A BBC spokesman said: "From Tuesday, BBC Radio Ulster will have a new contact number - 03030 80 5555. Standard geographic charges from landlines and mobiles will apply to BBC Radio Ulster's new telephone number. This means that calls to the station on this number will cost no more than 01 or 02 numbers.
"We would encourage people to be aware of the charges associated with their individual phone contracts."
The switch has been welcomed by a leading consumer group. David Hickson from the Fair Telecoms Campaign said: "This is long overdue, very welcome, very necessary and the right thing to do. It is a shame it has taken the BBC so long, but I'm glad it has now got things right."
He said most calls will now be free, depending on the user's contract.
"03 numbers are just like a local number. Calling in to Nolan or whoever will now cost no more than calling your friend or neighbour, which in most cases means no cost at all."
The Belfast Telegraph has been investigating BBC NI's call charges in recent weeks.
In July it began alerting callers about charges they would incur if they contact its programmes. It followed an Ofcom ruling which requires broadcasters to be clearer about the cost of calls.
In recent weeks its phone-ins began with a warning that callers will incur a 2p service charge on top of their normal access charge.An access charge is applied by the caller's phone company and is the charge for connecting the call.
However, while listeners were warned there is an additional access charge, they had been given no information about what it could cost. An access charge to a number beginning 084 from a BT landline can cost 10p a minute, while from an O2 mobile it is now 45p a minute.
The EE network, which includes Orange and T-Mobile customers, has a 44p access charge.
When the 2p service charge is factored in, it meant the cost of a call could be up to 47p a minute. The BBC said it did not receive any income from its numbers.