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Ofcom requires phone companies to pay for numbers

Communications providers will be charged for landline telephone numbers in parts of the country where supplies are running low, Ofcom announced today.

The companies will pay 10p per year for every number they have been allocated, under a pilot scheme covering 30 area codes in the UK from next April.

Charging for blocks of landline telephone numbers, which are currently free, is expected to encourage providers to manage their numbers more efficiently and consider their plans carefully before applying for new blocks.

It will also create an incentive for providers to return unused number blocks to Ofcom for reallocation to other companies that need them.

The charges will be billed annually and in arrears. They will apply to numbers already held, as well as new ones allocated during the charging year.

Should operators choose to pass these charges, including the implementation costs of the pilot scheme, on to their customers, Ofcom estimates that the resulting increase in most customers’ bills would be less than 10p per phone line per year.

As a further measure to conserve landline telephone numbers, Ofcom is to start allocating smaller blocks of 100 numbers – rather than the usual 1,000 – to communications providers in certain areas.

Dialling the local area code

Ofcom announced in September that, in areas where number blocks are running low, people will be required to dial their area code when making local calls. This makes it possible for Ofcom to allocate new local numbers beginning ‘0’ or ‘1’ for the first time.

That change will take place in Bournemouth from 1 November, after which Ofcom will consult on its introduction to other parts of the UK where necessary over the coming years.1

Safeguarding future supply

Without any changes, stocks of new geographic numbers could have run out in some areas of the country as early as this year. The measures outlined above are designed to prevent number blocks running out and avoid the need to make changes to existing phone numbers or area codes in the foreseeable future.

Stuart McIntosh, Ofcom Competition Group Director, said: “Telephone numbers are a vital national resource which most of us rely on every day. But the supply of numbers in any area code is finite.

“Charging phone providers is one of several measures Ofcom is introducing to safeguard the supply of numbers to homes and businesses for years to come.”

Ofcom will review the charging pilot scheme around two years after implementation.

A statement with details of the scheme is available here.



  1. See Ofcom’s press release of September 2011.Most UK phone numbers have a maximum of 11 dialled digits, which provides two billion geographic numbers starting 01 or 02. However, this large supply is fragmented into area codes, each of which is further divided into number blocks for allocation to communications providers. Intense competition means that an increasing number of providers are requesting blocks for their customers, leading to a shortage of blocks in certain areas.
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