Thursday, 25 October 2018

Questions (350)

Róisín Shortall


350. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the contact telephone numbers for her Department that are premium rate numbers; the reason freephone numbers are not used exclusively for her Department in view of the fact that many who are in contact are on limited incomes; her views on whether the use of premium rate or lo-call numbers will result in higher charges for those who do not have access to a landline; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44437/18]

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Written answers (Question to Employment)

My Department has several measures in place aimed at reducing the potential cost for telephone callers. This includes the provision of a “Freephone” service for callers to the Homeless Women, Families and New Communities, and Homeless Men’s Units.  A dedicated team handles high volumes of calls to these services.   Another measure is the use of “LoCall” numbers, operated through the “1890” platform.  These numbers, facilitate customers making contact with the appropriate section in my Department at a low cost to the caller, when calling from a landline number.  “1890” is just one of a group of non-geographic numbers (NGNs) which are used by a wide variety of service providers in Ireland.  The original intention underpinning the use of this facility by my Department was to enable customers to make national calls for the equivalent cost of a local call.

The telecommunications landscape in Ireland has changed significantly since then and I am aware that these numbers were introduced at a time when landlines predominated.  As such, I am also aware that "1890" numbers do not always result in a cost saving.  In fact, in some cases, calls to NGNs such as the “1890” numbers can cost significantly more, as these numbers are non-geographic and often not included in “bundles” of call minutes to landlines.  

The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) is currently undertaking a review of five different classes of NGNs, including “1890” numbers at present.  While not yet complete, ComReg has proposed a number of measures aimed at addressing a range of issues, including that of call costs, and has published a response to its latest round of consultations with a range of interested parties.

My Department is currently in the process of reviewing the use of NGNs as part of a wider review of its telephone policy and is considering the possible and likely implications of ComReg’s recent publications on this topic.

In the meantime, and mindful of the cost of "LoCall" numbers for some customers, my Department endeavours to ensure that where “LoCall” numbers are listed on the Department’s website, a landline number is always listed first, ahead of the available “LoCall” number.  Furthermore, where “LoCall” numbers are listed on the website, they are accompanied by a notification advising customers that rates charged may vary among different service providers.  Customers concerned about call charges can also request a call back, which staff of my Department will facilitate.