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PSA proposes extension of regulatory requirements to all call connection services

29 April 2019

The Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA) has opened a consultation on revised Special conditions for ICSS

The Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA) has opened a consultation on revised Special conditions for ICSS – third-party services that connect or signpost callers to popular helplines via a premium-rate number. 

The proposals are intended to improve the information about these services that is given to consumers, both in search results and on service websites, to make it clearer that they are third parties and that calls via an ICSS may be more expensive than calling the desired number directly. 

The proposed Special conditions include: 

  • Services must not promote using URLs which mislead the consumer into believing the ICSS website is associated with the organisation they are seeking

  • All promotional material must be distinct in appearance from that of the organisation being sought by the consumer

  • Consumers must clearly be informed of extra costs for onward connection, and have the option to refuse onward connection if it incurs extra costs

  • A requirement that marketing for the service, including search engine results, include an accurate description of the true nature of the service. 

  • A requirement that the name of the third-party organization and information making it clear that they are a third party should appear in the top left corner of a web page. 

These proposals follow changes in January 2019 to extend the scope of Ofcom’s Premium Rate Service Condition to include all ICSS within the definition of controlled premium rate services. This extended PSA regulation to all ICSS irrespective of the number range they are operating on.  This consultation proposes that the PSA’s Special conditions for ICSS should apply to all ICSS regardless of number range.

It also follows complaints from consumers to the PSA, reporting unexpectedly high call costs after unknowingly using an ICSS to call a customer service helpline for companies like Sky, BT and the AA, or government bodies like HMRC or the Department for Work and Pensions. Concerns were also raised by the affected organisations. 

In 2018, the PSA published research from the University of Nottingham which suggested that consumers generally engage with the first results that appear in a search engine, without verifying that they are for the organization they are seeking. Furthermore, 9 in 10 research participants did not read disclaimers or other information that might make it clear that they are using a third-party call connection service. 

These proposals are intended to protect consumers from inadvertently using an ICSS. There have been concerns about financial detriment as a result of misleading digital marketing practices leading people to call via a premium rate number unknowingly. 

The proposed Special conditions would also improve the information available to consumers about these services, enabling them to make more informed choices when seeking a phone number online. 

The consultation is open until 10th June 2019. Respondents are advised to use the new PSA consultations response form, available via this link.