Friday, 7 September 2018
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
1280. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the position in her Department and the organisations under its aegis that have arrangements in place for lo-call numbers or 1800, 1850 and 1890 phone numbers for members of the public to contact her Department or organisations under its aegis; the number of these that are completely free to call to persons that use mobile phones and may incur major bills phoning such organisations; if the situation will be reviewed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36398/18]
Telephone is an important communications channel for many of my Department’s customers and measures aimed at reducing the potential costs for callers have been in operation for many years.
Among them is the use of “LoCall” numbers, operated through the “1890” platform. These numbers, coupled with interactive voice response technology have combined to facilitate customers making quick contact with the appropriate section of the 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, by their very nature, are non-geographic, and they are often not included in “bundles” of call minutes to landlines.
I am aware that the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg)is undertaking a review of the 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. That publication is entitled "Review of Non-Geographic Numbers: Response to Consultation and Draft Decision – Reference ComReg 18/65 – 11/07/2018".
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 Departments website, that 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 the rates charged for the use of same may vary among different service providers. Also, please be advised that if customers have any concerns about call charges, the staff of my Department will always facilitate a call back.
Besides a range of “LoCall” numbers, my Department also offers a Freephone service for callers wishing to contact the Homeless Women, Families and New Communities, and Homeless Men’s Units. A dedicated team handles high volumes of calls to these services via the Freephone (“1800”) number provided by my Department.
Finally, the Deputy refers to the arrangements in place regarding NGNs within agencies that fall under the remit of my Department. Offices and statutory bodies within that category are wide ranging, and include the General Register Office (GRO), the Social Welfare Appeals Office, the Social Welfare Tribunal, the Pensions Council, the Citizens Information Board, the Pensions Authority, the Office of the Pensions Ombudsman and the Low Pay Commission. As protocols in place to manage the use of NGNs is an operational policy matter, responsibility for same is held locally. Therefore, I am not in a position to comment in this regard.
I trust this clarifies matters for the Deputy.