Labour Telecoms Proposals Call For Reduced BT Line Rental Charges

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined
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Shadow Communications Minister Helen Goodman publishes proposals to protect consumers from fixed line and mobile operators

Shadow communications minister Helen Goodman has called for BT to reduce its line rental charges ahead of a planned increase in January as part of an eight-point Labour plan to combat what she calls “the great phone rip-off.”

According to The Guardian, Goodman has said that mobile and fixed line connections are not a luxury item and says the government should do more to protect consumers, especially those on low incomes.

BT line rental increases

telephoneBT plans to increase line rental by 50p a month in the New Year from £15.45 to £15.95, bringing the total annual cost of a phone line to more than £190. Labour claims that with the installation of a new line costing £130, consumers face a £145.45 bill before they even make a phone call.

However BT claims only a small number of users require the installation of new phone lines, and TechWeekEurope understands the majority of these occur in new-build homes. It is also pointed out that the company offers a basic line rental package of £4.95 a month to those on low incomes and those who pay their annual line rental in one instalment effectively pay £11.75 a month.

“These figures are wrong as the vast majority of people don’t need to pay for a new phone line,” said a BT spokesperson. “As for line rental, our prices are regulated by Ofcom and compare well with those in other countries. There are strong measures in place to ensure vulnerable people get cheaper prices and so we are surprised to face such criticism.”

Communications proposals

Labour is also calling for free calls to 0800 numbers from mobile phones, easier switching between mobile networks and other service providers and a £50 cap on the amount a customer has to pay for bills run up before a mobile is reported lost or stolen, similar to those imposed on credit cards.

The party also wants customers to be able to receive paper bills without financial penalty, arguing that people could lose track of their finances otherwise, and for BT to drop its £1.75 a month charge for free caller identification.

Finally, it also wants to let consumers change mobile operators if they are subjected to mid-contract price increases. Ofcom recently announced plans to allow this, but these will only apply on deals signed from January. Labour wants this policy to be applied retrospectively.

Labour’s proposals come at a time when both the coalition government and the opposition are seeking to win votes by creating policies to cope with the rising cost of utilities and communications. The government itself is apparently readying its own plan to address the increasing cost of living and has reportedly met with telecoms firms to gain concessions ahead of its autumn statement.

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