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Revealed: BBC phone-ins like Nolan Show could cost callers a shocking 46p a minute

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 03/08/2015

Radio Ulster phone-in presenter Stephen Nolan
Radio Ulster phone-in presenter Stephen Nolan
Radio Ulster phone-in presenter William Crawley

Calls to BBC Northern Ireland's flagship phone-in shows can cost up to 46p a minute - far higher than listeners are being told.

The broadcaster is failing to warn people about the full cost of "rip-off" access charges.

These can be up to 22 times higher than the service charge which listeners are currently informed about.

The costs could be avoided if BBC NI followed other BBC regions by moving from an 08 to an 03 prefix.

Although the simple switch would mean listeners are no longer charged, BBC NI has yet to change its number.

It has prompted calls for the BBC to make the change immediately, or be clearer about the actual cost of dialling into its shows.

David Hickson from the Fair Telecoms Campaign said: "BBC NI should recognise what it is doing and tell listeners the appalling consequences of its poor decision to hang on to this 0845 number long after others have changed theirs."

Earlier this month, BBC NI began alerting callers about charges they would incur if they contact its programmes.

It follows an Ofcom ruling which requires broadcasters to be clearer about the cost of calls.

Phone-ins such as Talkback and The Nolan Show now begin with a warning that callers will incur a 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 are warned there is an additional access charge, they are given no information about what it costs.

An access charge to a number beginning 084 from a BT landline can cost 10p a minute, while from an O2 mobile it is 25p a minute.

The EE network, which includes Orange and T-Mobile customers, has a 44p access charge.

Later this month the access charge for O2 and Vodafone customers will be hiked to 45p - meaning the cost of a call to BBC NI will be 47p a minute.

Mr Hickson said the BBC cannot be required to give a complete list of the charges from various telephone companies. However, he said it knows the high cost its 08 prefix - which he branded "a rip-off" - is placing on callers.

Mr Hickson said it was inexplicable that BBC NI had not followed other BBC regions in switching to an 03 prefix. "The Fair Telecoms Campaign has been trying for some time to assist the BBC in completing a swift migration from 08459 555 678 to 03459 555 678," he added.

"We are very disappointed to hear of no progress with this and no commitment that the change will be completed shortly."

In response to queries from this newspaper, BBC NI said it hoped to move to an 03 prefix in the near future.

"We are doing everything we can to introduce an 03 contact number for calls to BBC Northern Ireland and expect this will happen very soon," a spokesman said.

The BBC said it would be "impractical" to warn listeners about the precise cost of access charges.

"Network access charges will vary depending on someone's phone contract," it added.

"It would be impractical for us to list all of the different cost configurations that exist. This information is readily available elsewhere.

"We understand that network access charges can sometimes involve significant additional cost for callers."

Initially, BBC listeners were told a 7p a minute service charge applied. Now the BBC is saying it is 2p a minute.

Asked about the conflicting advice, the BBC added: "Our concern has been to provide audiences with specific pricing information about calls to BBC Northern Ireland programmes using the 0845 number. Calls cost 2p per minute, plus the network access charge."

The BBC said it receives no income from using an 0845 number.

How much you’ll really be paying

Access charge to 084 numbers from a landline:

• BT: 10p per minute

• Plusnet: 10p per minute

• Sky Talk: 10p per minute

• TalkTalk: 5p per minute

• Virgin Media: 10p per minute

Access charge from a mobile phone:

• EE: 44p per minute

• O2: 25p per minute*

• Orange: 44p per minute

• TalkTalk: 20p per minute

• Tesco Mobile: 25p per minute

• Three: 25p per minute

• T-Mobile: 44p per minute

• Virgin Mobile: 36p per minute

• Vodafone: 23p per minute**

* 45p from August 17

** 45p from August 10

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